Dean Smith’s first match in charge at the weekend finally saw a Villa side featuring players deployed in their natural positions. Other than that, the actual team selection wasn’t particularly radical. Showing that his predecessor Steve Bruce was making life much harder than it needed to be. There was one continued question from fans though, where is Anwar El Ghazi.
The inclusion of both Albert Adomah and Ahmed Elmohamady over the likes of Yannick Bolasie did raise a few eyebrows.
El Ghazi has quickly become a peripheral figure during his short time at Aston Villa. Despite what seemed to be encouraging performances immediately upon his arrival on a season-long loan from Lille. The Dutch international has been omitted from playing duties since mid-September. He hasn’t even made the bench in the last couple of matches.
What is going on?
So what is going on? There have been no reported injuries. And if he was fit enough to be thrown straight in from the kick-off for his debut against Reading several weeks ago, then surely he will only have gotten into better shape since then.
Personally, I felt that his performances were decent for a guy just coming straight into a new club and who wasn’t match fit. In the match against Reading, he looked lively. There were glimpses of pace, trickery. He also showcased his delivery skills by putting in a quality ball for Ahmed Elmohamady to grab our only goal of the game. In fact, his departure just before the 70 minute mark coincided with Villa retreating into themselves without being able to use him as an outlet. Typical Bruce tactics, of course.
His second appearance came at the wrong end of a massacre at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United. With the whole team guilty of not turning up in the 4-1 debacle. El Ghazi did at least manage to grab a consolation with a decent low strike and showing enthusiasm to get into position to make it happen with the game long dead and buried.
A bit of a stinker followed in the 2-0 victory over Rotherham however, with misplaced passes and overhit crosses. However, that one game seems to have been a catalyst for him falling out of favour. Since then, we’ve only seen 10 minutes of him. When he was introduced as a late sub in the home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. It seems slightly harsh.
There have been reports that his attitude is somewhat questionable. However, I haven’t seen much evidence of that. His work rate has been decent in the short time we’ve seen him. However, not up to the levels of seasoned pro’s Elmohamady and Adomah. Which I imagine is the main reason why Smith plumped for that particular duo in his first match in charge. To try and ensure a win through hard work rather than flair. Which is fair enough.
So, can we expect to see El Ghazi anytime soon? With three matches in six days, there will undoubtedly have to be some squad rotation. The worry is that the Moroccan born winger isn’t even getting into the matchday squads right now. And for all Bruce’s faults, if both he and Smith are omitting him, perhaps there is more than meets the eye to things.
Villa’s bench was strong against Swansea. And balanced. It may be that there simply wasn’t room for El Ghazi on this occasion. Bolasie was preferred as the out and out winger choice, with Jonathan Kodjia offering an option as a secondary Wideman and striker. There was no surprise to see Scott Hogan reintroduced. Conor Hourihane and Glenn Whelan offered the midfield options. Mile Jedinak provided the defensive cover.
In short, El Ghazi finds himself with a real battle on his hands to force himself into contention. And there are already questions marks about whether he has the mental fortitude for the fight ahead.
A tweet from a fan was sent to El Ghazi asking where he was once the team sheet for the match against Swansea was revealed. A simple reply ‘In the crowd’ coupled with an emoji of a man shrugging with his hands out seemed to imply that the winger was baffled to have been left out.
In the crowd 🤷♂️
— Anwar El Ghazi (@AElGhazi7) October 20, 2018
There was a definite feeling that the capture of El Ghazi was somewhat of a coup for the club. After all, as a Championship outfit, we have to be considered a drop down in standard for a player that has featured scoring in the Nou Camp for Ajax against Barcelona in the Champions League.
Does Smith fancy him?
Villa fans certainly want to see more of El Ghazi, and surely we will do as the matches begin to rack up. The big question is that obviously as a Bruce signing, does Smith fancy him?
At the moment, it would be hard to imagine that El Ghazi’s talent will be overlooked for much longer. However, if there are issues with attitude and work rate in training, then you get the impression that Smith is not one to roll over and accept that.
The next run of games will tell us a lot about Smith’s plans for El Ghazi. Personally, I’d like to see more of him and haven’t seen anything on the pitch to suggest laziness. There is an exciting talent there and hopefully, Smith can find the right formula to give him the game time to showcase it.