The sickening injuries to Tom Heaton and Wesley sustained at Burnley on New Year’s Day have brought into sharp relief the strength and depth of a squad extensively overhauled in the summer and already glaringly light in forward areas.
The January window offers notoriously poor value, as clubs at both ends of the table are often held over a barrel (for differing reasons) with vastly inflated prices for talent which is more often than not surplus to requirements at the selling club.
Rarely does a January purchase end up giving exponential value for money, although in the case of Darren Bent all those years ago, the £20-odd million spent was more than repaid as he helped preserve our Premier League status and the subsequent TV and prize money.
Not only do selling clubs routinely add several million to their valuations, but very little business is concluded until the final throes prior to the window “slamming shut” as clubs jostle for signings and often find themselves in a Mexican standoff as the selling clubs wait until the 11th hour to see who will cough up the most.
And as mentioned, the talent on offer is usually only those approaching the end of their contracts in the coming summer, or fringe players unable to secure regular action looking for first team game time ahead of a major summer tournament.
As we head into a pivotal period in our battle for Premier League survival, we find ourselves linked with numerous players and for a variety of (usually made up) reasons. Chelsea strikers Michi Batshuayi and Olivier Giroud are two of the names being linked, largely due to our paucity of striking options, the John Terry connection and the fact they are not playing regularly ahead of the forthcoming Euro 2020 tournament.
There is no question we need forward reinforcements – Keinan Davis seems to have a season ticket for the Bodymoor treatment room, while Jonathan Kodjia continues to do his best Nicolas Anelka impression anytime he gets an opportunity. Youth forwards such as Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Callum O’Hare have been sent on loan. And perhaps this is not the best time to remind anyone that Scott Hogan remains a Villa player.
I can see a couple of loan signings up front this January, perhaps with a right to buy, but that’s not important as far as I am concerned. We need short-term, Premier League experience to have a Bent-like impact and ensure we achieve our goal of Premier League football for next season.
I would take Batshuayi over Giroud – age, appearances and contributions this season all point to the Belgian, but there is plenty of chatter that Crystal Palace are looking to tempt him to recreate his largely successful loan spell at Selhurst from last season.
That being the case, would there be any interest (or benefit) in offering to relieve the Eagles of a certain Christian Benteke? I’m not suggesting we should pin our hopes on an injury-plagued, shot-shy player who is currently a pale imitation of the beast who enjoyed his best form at B6, but in terms of adding experienced numbers, what’s not to like?
The injury to Tom Heaton is not perhaps as season-destroying for Villa as it may appear. We have numerous back up options – Ørjan Nyland, Lovre Kalinič and a soon-to-be-fit Jed Steer are all at the club – while ‘hot prospect’ Matija Šarkić has been recalled from his loan as cover.
Despite a rocky start to their Villa careers for both Nyland and Kalinič, the fact remains that both are international goalkeepers and the defence behind which they will find themselves now is very different to last season’s when they last played any meaningful game time.
And in the case of Nyland, he looked a different player when he came on unexpectedly against Wolves and again in the Burnley match a few days back.
So I can’t see the club spending much time or effort on recruiting fresh goalkeeping talent, and rightly so. We need strikers and midfield reinforcements, in light of John McGinn’s injury and in terms of relieving the already huge pressure on the shoulders of Jack Grealish (who, by the way, will most certainly NOT be going anywhere this transfer window).
The decisions made by Christian Purslow, Suso and Dean Smith in the next couple of weeks will make or break our season. Let’s hope they make the right ones.