Will Dean Smith call on Louie Barry before the season ends?
He’s on the lips of every Villa fan and on the fringes of the first team – Louie Barry may yet have a part to play as Dean Smith plots Aston Villa’s great escape.
Since the resumption of the Premier League season, Villa have taken two points from five tricky fixtures and which aren’t getting easier with Manchester United up next at Villa Park. To the expense of Villa’s improved defence, an attacking threat has severely lacked with only two goals scored in over 450 minutes of football.
A single Premier League goal shared between Keinan Davis and Mbwana Ally Samatta was what Smith chose to rotate between for the visit to Liverpool and whilst a 2-0 scoreline is respectable at Anfield, games are running out fast.
Nobody is expecting a youngster to carry the weight of a club scrapping to retain their top-flight status, but whilst quality in the final third is poor and goals are in short measure, a different, unknown quantity could be the tonic Villa need to kick-start a survival mission.
Barry has impressed in Villa’s U23 side, scoring three times and assisting as many goals as he’s managed in the three appearances he’s made since joining from Barcelona in January. His impressive performances haven’t gone unnoticed with Smith keen to include the Sutton Coldfield youngster in first team training since lockdown was lifted.
During the three friendlies Villa played to gear up for the Sheffield United opener last month, Barry even made his mark against senior opposition and held his own in a 3-0 win at the King Power with plenty of onlookers making a note of his name.
Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers was overheard saying to Villa coach John Terry: ‘I like the little guy that was creating havoc up front’. ‘Yeah,’ replied Terry. ‘That’s Louie. He’s not even old enough to drive yet.’
Youngsters taking their chance
Barry turned 17 last month and if getting behind the wheel seems premature, Premier League football might not be so far away. Across the city, Borussia Dortmund bound Jude Bellingham has made 39 appearances for Birmingham City in all competitions this season and has busted the myth that players of his age can’t make an impact at senior level.
Villa have held back plenty of promising academy players in seasons past and even though Barry has only made a handful of U23 games, the reputation he built up at England youth levels and at most recently La Masia speaks volumes of the player he can become.
Another England U17 teammate, Harvey Elliot has also made strides in the top-flight after making his Fulham debut aged 15. Elliot’s impressive performance at Villa Park in the EFL Cup forced Jurgen Klopp to include him in recent matchday squads packed with fully fledged International stars – he’ll even be claiming a Premier League winners medal soon.
Villa chief executive Christian Purslow recently claimed Barry is ‘the best 16-year-old in England’ and if his claims are anything to go by, the teenager’s opportunity with the first team can’t be far away judging by the rapid development of many others in his age group this season.
Barry left Barca’s renowned academy of excellence after feeling unsettled and when his boyhood club came calling, he was on the first flight home. For many youngsters, including Bellingham and formally Barry, playing abroad can offer another pathway to the top.
Jamal Musiala, another U17 England international made his breakthrough in Europe at none other than Bayern Munich earlier this month. Barry might well be fast tracked too if Smith, Terry and Richard O’Kelly believe the youngster is up for the challenge.
Offering something different
Villa’s apparent lack of goals isn’t simply rectified by throwing a hopeful youngster into the mix. But offering a different type of attacking threat alone will expand Villa’s options off the bench and utilise the new five substitute rule.
With his livewire style, pace and direct play-style he already makes up for an absence of progressive speed amongst Villa’s ranks. Smith’s side haven’t managed to produce enough counter attacks nor incisive passing moves to flip opposing defences this season.
Applying low blocks and a rigid defensive shape affords more time for the opposition to win the ball back once it’s lost, and Villa have failed to replicate the recent attacking moves West Ham have used to seemingly escape relegation troubles in past weeks winning against Chelsea and scoring twice against Newcastle.
This isn’t throwing in a youngster as a last resort, Barry has earned the opportunity to showcase his talent after hitting the ground running in reserve games and behind-closed doors friendlies.
Naturally, with so much riding on Villa’s results, Dean Smith is reluctant to apply undue pressure on Barry at such a tender stage of his career, but if Villa lack that critical, potent touch against a Manchester United defence at sea in recent weeks, Barry’s inclusion will look all the more likely.
’Louie has been an academy signing first and foremost but he is one with an awful lot of potential,’ said Smith after buying the striker with bags of potential.
It must be recognised that Mason Greenwood, Bukayo Saka and even Louie Sibley of Derby County are more advanced in their development having started the season amongst their respective first team ranks and they’re no comparison. The young trio have however, shared seven goals between themselves since football resumed.
Behind-closed doors conditions certainly help youngsters flourish without the trepidation of stepping into the baying cauldron of 40,000 fans in what is a hair-raising experience that can make or break players of such a raw age.
Barry’s aiming high
After joining the club in a deal worth up to €4m, Barry revealed his intentions to gatecrash the first team before the season’s ending.
“I am fighting for the first team. What I want to do first at Villa is play really well and go up the ranks. My main ambition is to be in the first team by the end of the season.”
Villa’s academy manager Mark Harrison added his own hype to the young forward.
He said: “He’s really driven, he’s got great family support, but in terms of what he can achieve, we firmly believe that he can be an outstanding number nine for this football club.”
Only days after arriving at Bodymoor Heath, Barry scored the winner for the U23s in a behind-closed-doors fixture against Cardiff City and made an instant impression on head coach Smith and his assistant Terry.
Joining the likes of Jack Grealish and Smith, another local lad wearing his heart on his sleeve is something to look forward to for Villa fans so often culpable of pinning their hopes on youngsters unable to make their first team breakthrough.
Barry’s flurry of goal contributions at U23 level – six in three – boasts a very encouraging record that surpasses a per 90 output than former academy hopefuls that Villa have handed debuts to at similar ages.
A season finale cameo would be the silver lining to a campaign that’s failed to live up to the expectations and only served to disappoint Villans resigned to a potential relegation back to the Championship.