At the same stage last season, Ollie Watkins had six goals and an assist to his name. As Villa’s record signing at the time, the former Brentford man was living up to his name as the Championship player of the year.
Contrastingly, this season, Watkins has struggled to find the net as he did last time around.
With his goal against Tottenham (on the eve of the 7-2 anniversary), it looked as if Watkins was up and running again.
Until finding the net in Sunday’s defeat, however, the striker’s struggles in front of goal had continued.
There can be many explanations for the dip of his form. Watkins, like many other England internationals, has found replicating performances of last season difficult after crushing defeat in the European Championships.
Although Watkins was eventually not included in Southgate’s tournament squad, he’d been around the national set-up in the build-up, and subsequently in the aftermath.
Additionally, injury saw Watkins miss the beginning of the season. His return to full fitness must be accounted for.
When Villa completed the big-money signing of Danny Ings, it was clear that both he and Watkins would be fitted into the same system.
After such an impressive debut campaign, Watkins would not play back-up to the new man, and likewise, the club wouldn’t pay £30 million on a player to make up the substitutes bench.
Whether Ings was the right striker to bring in is a discussion for another day, but the fact remains clear – as of yet, Watkins and Ings don’t bring the best out of each other.
Having operated as a lone man at Southampton, or more latterly, ahead of the second striker, Ings’ style of play doesn’t complement Watkins’ game.
Where Watkins enjoyed so much success last season – flanked with wingers either side of him, the presence of another man upfront requires a more defensive approach in midfield – owing to the absence of orthodox wingers that used to accompany Watkins.
Reverting back to last seasons 4-3-3 formation against West Ham, Watkins found arguably his best performance of the season. With Danny Ings missing through injury/illness-related troubles, Watkins was deployed in his favoured lone striker role.
Scoring from a winger’s pass played across the penalty box, Watkins’ statement showed where his strengths lie.
Before Villa went on to lose the game, Watkins saw a chance hit the bar resulting from another cross.
What Happens Next?
Manager Dean Smith refused to disclose the lengthiness of Ings’ absence, so it remains to be seen whether he’s involved against his former employers (Southampton) on Friday night.
If he misses out again, Smith will rely on Watkins leading the line. If the striker delivers another strong performance as the spearhead of a front three, the manager will have a difficult decision to make upon Ings’ return.