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How will Wesley Moraes fit into Dean Smith’s Aston Villa?

Gareth Cooper looks at the stats, maps and data to analyse Villa’s record signing

Royal Excel Mouscron v Club Brugge - Jupiler Pro League Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Aston Villa’s new signing, Wesley, is a player that not many - sorry - any Villa fans will have heard of up until this past week. In fact on my short list of potential strikers that the club may have an interest in looking at, never mind signing, he was not on it, not even close. But should he have been?

I had a look back through my own records to see if Wesley had ever been a name I had come across and he did appear briefly in some specific goal scoring data profiling work I had been working on around Christmas time - but that’s as far as I can remember ever hearing his name and it was certainly never used in any finished analysis. Should I have taken more notice? Well, no not really.

Why? Well he just doesn’t stand out in any specific metric I would use to assess a striker or centre-forward especially for a club newly-promoted to the Premier League and having money to spend; like the Villa. Certainly not enough to follow up with any video footage anyway.

This is going to sound disappointing but Wesley, or ‘Big Wes’, is not a prolific goal scorer by any stretch. At the end of the 17/18 Jupiler league season he had scored a grand total of 11 goals from 38 games and last season he beat that total by scoring two more goals: 13 in 38 games.

When we look at strikers or centre-forwards the most common form of assessing the players finishing qualities is by using xG, know as expected goals, and in Wesley’s case this makes for (slightly) better reading.

In that 17/18 season Wesley had an xG total of 7.58 which he outperformed if you remember, as he scored 11 actual goals meaning he exceeding his xG total 3.42 goals, so although his actual goal return was poor - he did take a few difficult chances and turn them into goals.

This is where I have been slightly confused by Villa’s scouting of Wesley. When scouting a player I obviously look at the basic attributes of the player depending on position but one thing I like to see, although not essential, is not only consistency but improvement on a player in the areas in which I am assuming he should be improving. For example, is he scoring more goals? Is he exceeding his xG? Is he a tall player? If so is he scoring more headed goals and is he improving on his numbers? These are just examples of course and a few of many that I would be noting down.

My point is that this past season (18/19) Wesley had a final xG total of 13.72 and scored 13 goals, an improvement I agree, but is it enough exceeding your xG by 3.42 one year and the next by 0.72? I’m not so sure and the numbers don’t lie. While it’s an improvement, it’s not massive.

Of course this is just one measure and it not the be all and end all and I don’t know the profile the Villa scouting team have used when following up on Wesley but lets face it he smacks of a Tammy Abraham type profile (watch him you will see what I mean).

Wesley’s goal scoring is not actually the main feature of his game. When we look at his heatmap from this season at Club Brugge, it is quite clear that he spends a great deal of his time in between the 18 yard box and the half way line pointing to a more link-up-man type of centre-forward. Comparing this to Tammy Abrahams heatmap from his time at Villa last season where we can see he was a more of an 18-yard box striker (Abraham doubled Wesley’s scoring tally) we can now see why Wesley had such a reletively low season goals total, he simply doesn’t spend enough time in the areas where he would prosper. If you want lots of goals, get into tap-in range.

Here are the heatmaps, the far right side of the image is the goalmouth:

Wesley 18-19 Club Brugge

Tammy Abraham 18-19 Aston Villa

This is obviously something Villa’s recruitment team will have picked up on and know that this final-third positioning can very easily be improved upon in training and coaching as Villa’s style of play is very different from Brugge’s. The scope for improvement in Wesley’s positioning in attacking areas is very much attainable.

In 2018-19 Brugge mainly played a 3-5-2 (47% of the games played) or a variation of that in a 3-5-1-1 (26% of games played) and Wesley was part of that front two on the left of the two and he also played as a lone striker in the 3-5-1-1, but also in a withdrawn striking role behind the sole centre-forward and this points again to his link-up-man qualities. In fact when deployed in that 3-5-2 he was usually the one who tended to drop deeper to receive the ball, similar to Tammy Abraham. He can also turn and run with pace on the ball to good effect.

In my opinion Wesley, given how Villa set up last season, could easily fill the central role in a front three in Dean Smith’s favoured 4-3-3 formation but he must refine his role that bit more than last season. If Smith decided on a formation that meant Villa could play with a front two this may aide Wesley somewhat, but given what the Brazilian may offer it may be too steep of a risk as he has never played in a front three so pre-season will be a tough, but important, learning curve for him.

One thing I did notice about Wesley when watching him (I watched 15 full games, all goals, all set pieces and pretty much everything in between after the news broke) is that his ability to score from various types of crossed delivery was decent. Below I have detailed a shot map graphic to explain this:

From just 3.62 xG from crosses, Wesley has scored an incredible 6 goals and as the shot map shows a couple of those were headers. What really caught my eye was his ability to get a good contact on the ball and direct the ball goalwards with great accuracy. The three blue circles on the left side of the 6 yard box were all finishes from crosses as was the blue circle at the near post. They are close to goal but when watching his technique when under pressure from a marker they were very impressive, I have to say.

There are issues with his shooting from range as he does tend to rush his shots when on the turn but again this can be coached out of him to an extent and instead of shooting he will lay the ball off out wide to Anwar El Ghazi or Jack Grealish.

To sum Wesley up in one article is tricky as we have to consider the difference in levels between the Belgian Jupiler and English Premier League as well as many other parameters but under Dean Smith there is no reason he can’t be a success. £22 million is the highest fee Villa have paid for a player since Darren Bent way back in 2011 and in my opinion the fee is slightly inflated, but with sell-on clauses in place, I wouldn’t consider this such a massive risk overall. I for one will be keeping a close eye on Wesley and will be updating my analysis of him throughout the season.