There’s no other way to put it: losing Tyrone Mings for the 2023-24 season makes Aston Villa a worse team. There isn’t any silver lining to be found except in the fact that the injury happened early enough in the season that the transfer window was still open to allow the club time to bring in someone to fill the squad space.
Let’s emphasize that again: to fill the squad space, not to replace Mings. What Mings brought to this Aston Villa team can’t be bought and sold in a transfer window, but what can be secured in the market is depth.
Luckily for Villa, they found willing last-second deal brokers in Barcelona who were happy to loan Clément Lenglet and his €57,000-per-week wages to Aston Villa for the season.
The 26-year-old Frenchman is no stranger to the Premier League. He started 27 league games for Tottenham while on loan last season. He’s seen a bit of everything in his career: winning the French second division with AS Nancy Lorraine in 2014-15, moving to Sevilla and helping them to a Champions League quarter-final finish in 2017-18, and then moving to Barca and winning La Liga in his first season there in 2018-19. He was a mainstay at the Catalan club for three seasons and earned himself a massive six-year contract (expires June 2026) of over €10m per season, but in 2021-22 his role and playing time were greatly diminished after Xavi became the manager. Since then, Barca have tried to get out from under his wages with a loan to Spurs last season and now to Villa for the 2023-24 season.
Most importantly, Villa fans can expect reliability from Lenglet. He’s never had any major injury concerns aside from a hamstring injury two years ago that kept him out of five games. As I am sitting here watching Diego Carlos go down with another injury against Liverpool, I think it’s good to know we have a player coming in without prior injury concern.
In fact, Lenglet has been a workhorse his entire career. He logged over 3,000 minutes in six straight seasons from 2015-16 to 2020-21. Then Xavi came to Barca in October 2021 and just wasn’t (and still isn’t) keen on Lenglet in his team setup so the streak was broken for reasons other than his durability. He was back on track with Spurs last season logging over 2,500 minutes mostly split between league play and the Champions League.
Like Mings and Pau Torres, Lenglet is left-footed. In fact, Villa may be (unofficially) on its way to having the most left-footed players on its roster in all of Europe. Lucas Digne, Leon Bailey, Moussa Diaby, John McGinn, Nicolò Zaniolo, Mings, Torres, and now Lenglet. In fact, of all the summer signings, only Youri Tielemans is right-footed.
Lenglet’s left-footedness means that we would most likely see him giving Torres rest and either pairing with Ezri Konsa or Carlos whenever he is back to full health.
Lenglet’s playing style is comparable to Torres. He’s an extremely good progressive passer, meaning he likes to get the ball upfield to the opponent’s goal. He averaged slightly more progressive passing distance per 90 last season than Torres (384 yards to 379 yards). He’s especially adept in the short passing game (five to 15 yards) with an insane 97% accuracy (compared to 91% for Mings and 93% for Torres) which is critical while playing out of the back like Villa are wont to do under Emery. He’s not quite as polished as Torres at long passes (30+ yards) but he still is around the 60% accuracy mark with nearly six completed per game (Torres 64% with eight completed per game).
Like Torres, Leglet is also comfortable with the ball at his feet. He wasn’t nearly as prolific with how far he carried the ball last season (252 yards per 90 vs. Torres 320 yards per 90), but he did carry the ball more often than Torres (51 times per 90 vs. 47 times per 90) meaning that he is more likely to take a few touches and then find the open man rather than knifing solo through the press like Torres can and does.
Defensively, Lenglet is solid. He’s better than Torres but not quite as good as Mings; he’s our goldilocks left-sided centre-back. Last season Mings was great at intercepting the ball (1.5 per 90 vs. 0.8 for Lenglet) but Lenglet was a much better tackler (1.7 per 90 vs. Mings’ 0.4). Lenglet uses those tackle attempts farther up the pitch than most centre-backs ranking in the 93rd percentile for tackles in the final third last season. He was also in the 81st percentile of centre-backs for passes blocked. He is a player who reads the field and tries to make plays on the ball to thwart opponent attacks rather than waiting for the attack to come to him. It could be high risk/high reward, but I think if it increases how often Villa are able to counterattack or retain possession in the opponent's half then it will be a net positive.
Barca have been trying to unload Lenglet’s contract any way they can, and Saudi club Al-Nassar allegedly met their demands earlier in the transfer window, but Lenglet (to his credit) rejected the move, adamant about playing top-level European football. It bodes well that Villa is acquiring a player who backs himself and has an axe to grind with Xavi and the Barcelona hierarchy.
If you recall my last article about Zaniolo and how he arrived at Villa (likely) because of his prior Monchi connection, then you’ll find it interesting that it was Monchi who brought Lenglet from Ligue 1 to Sevilla right before moving to the Sporting Director position at Roma… where he signed Zaniolo. So, we’ve come full circle.
I don’t know how many transfer windows Monchi can call on former signings to come to the rescue, but the loan moves of Zaniolo and now Lenglet can hopefully, at least for this season, ease the pain caused by losing Emi Buendia and Tyrone Mings.