In a week in which the plaudits have rightly been for England international Fabian Delph, I am going to focus on his current central midfield partner.
Ashley Westwood is in his third season with Aston Villa. Since joining from Crewe, he has been a mainstay in Paul Lambert’s central midfield. Lambert is clearly a huge fan of the former Crewe player, as am I. For a fee believed to be less than one million pounds, he has proved an absolute snip, adapting seamlessly from League Two to Premier League football.
With Carlos Sanchez and Tom Cleverley arriving, I have seen numerous comments on social media sites and forums suggesting that Westwood will be dropping out of the side. I have always felt that Westwood is underappreciated by Villa fans. Before his move to B6, Westwood was very close to joining Swansea City. Had he made the move to Wales, I believe he would be a player who Villa fans lamented not signing and cited as ‘just the kind of player we should be signing’. As football fans, we are all sometimes guilty of wanting what we don’t have.
I have been impressed with Westwood from the first time I saw him start at Villa Park. I felt he was the obvious replacement for Petrov with his neatness on the ball and passing accuracy. Petrov was a player who I didn’t always believe was truly appreciated by our fans either. Petrov was better at breaking up the play than Westwood is but I do think that Westwood has bulked up and that he has had a more physical presence so far this term. I hear people moaning at Westwood quite a bit in the Holte and for the life of me can’t understand why: he very rarely gives the ball away, his range of passing is probably the best in our side and he always wants the ball. Technically, I believe that Ashley Westwood is one of the best players in our squad: he is blessed with a brilliant first touch and, as we have seen, he strikes a mean free-kick.
I don’t know whether it is because he isn’t flashy or particularly quick but I do feel he is undervalued. He has been playing as a defensive midfielder a lot of the time in a Villa shirt so maybe that doesn’t help. Defensive midfield is not his best position and, with the signing of Sanchez, hopefully the shackles can be loosened and Westwood can operate a bit further up the pitch, which may lead to greater recognition.
It is assumed now that Westwood will make way for our new signings but I’m not so sure. I could see us moving to a midfield diamond shape for many games and even if we don’t change formation Lambert needs a squad. We now have the depth in midfield, and in general, to make changes. There are times when Westwood may sit on the bench, not because he isn’t very good but because we should now be able to use our squad. I think we will see Carlos Sanchez utilised more in away games whereas Westwood may come to the fore in games at Villa Park where we need to unlock stubborn defences.
I wanted to gauge the general opinion on Ashley Westwood so I asked Villa fans on Twitter. You will see a selection of their comments below:
I completely agree with James Quigley. With all due respect, Westwood has been playing in a poor side for two seasons. We don’t look like that same, poor side so far this season. Michael Carrick and Mikel Areta aren’t spectacular players for Manchester United and Arsenal but they have similar traits to Westwood and that is why they get picked – top teams need a player with the attributes Westwood has.
These fans’ views match my own: I think he has been operating at a high level but with more freedom I believe he is capable of taking his game up another notch. Last season, he added goals to his game (to an extent) and if he’s operating a bit further up the pitch maybe he can score more and do more damage with his passing.
The tweets above are slightly less complimentary than the others but they raise interesting points. I personally don’t think he is in serious danger of losing his place if he keeps performing like he has done so far this season. Despite me waxing lyrical about him so far, he has had dips in the last two seasons, which was to be expected from a young player making the big leap from League two to Premier League, but in the main he has performed at a high level. I see that he was in the “potential bracket” for the last two seasons but I think that he has stepped out of that and is ready to make a real name for himself. I pointed to the fact that he possibly doesn’t get a lot of praise due to his lack of pace and perhaps these comments support that view. At the moment, it is difficult to change the team so Cleverley and Sanchez may have to bide their time, although perhaps Sanchez may come in for N’Zogbia or Richardson against Liverpool to add some steel.
I was actually surprised by some of the replies: I felt the negative responses would outweigh those that rated him, that wasn’t the case. Fabian Delph talked last week about how Westwood ‘makes it easy for him’ at Villa. Although Delph was obviously playing down his own abilities, thare has been an element of AshleyWestwood sacrificing his own game in Villa’s midfield. Delph is undoubtedly our top midfield player but I think Westwood helps him to be as good as he is. They offer differing but equally vital traits to our side.
I am looking forward to seeing how our midfield evolves this season and I am betting that Westwood is still a big part of this.
What do you think? Will Westwood keep his place? Let me know by leaving a comment below.