While it is one among a litany of clichés surrounding the football transfer market, Aston Villa may very well have made the best signing they could have hoped for without the arrival of a new player.
Tying Jack Grealish down to a five-year contract has cleared up at least the short term future of the team’s top scorer and most prolific assist provider from last season, while also ensuring the club are financially rewarded if he does leave in the next few years.
However, Villa’s reliance upon Grealish is a worrisome habit to fall back upon. And so, the club’s recruitment team have shown signs of addressing this imbalance with the arrival of former Brentford striker Ollie Watkins.
Another boost to the attacking roster could be Lyon’s 25-year-old forward Bertrand Traoré who is poised to complete a move to Villa Park after the Midlands side upped their bid to £20m.
Villa’s Premier League status was only secured on the final day of last season. The club’s revamped defence ultimately proved to be their salvation but scoring goals was an issue throughout the campaign.
Alongside the wonders worked by Grealish, Villa – who’s three strikers combined to score just six league goals between them last season – were overly dependent on their set piece prowess. Only two teams in the Premier League scored a higher proportion of their goals from dead ball situations in the previous campaign.
While Traoré’s record of one league goal and three assists last season doesn’t exactly paint a particularly positive picture, there are some mitigating factors to consider.
Unquestionably, the best season of Traoré’s professional career came in 2017/18, his debut season at Lyon. The then-22-year-old netted 18 goals and laid on seven assists across all competitions. Traoré achieved these career-high numbers playing as the right winger in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, often cutting onto his (considerably) stronger left foot.
Grealish emphatically has the left-wing role sewn up at Aston Villa while Anwar El Ghazi and Trézéguet battled it out for a spot on the other flank for much the previous campaign. Villa started and finished the season playing with a back-four in a system which would certainly accommodate Traoré but Dean Smith did use a three-man defence for several matches.
Under his current (and potentially former) Lyon manager, Rudi Garcia, Traoré was frozen out as the French side shifted to a 3-5-2 formation towards the end of the campaign. The former Chelsea youngster has played just 40 minutes of Lyon’s six games since returning from lockdown in July.
The manager who brought Traoré to Lyon in 2017 – Bruno Génésio – regularly selected the winger during their two seasons together and he continued to be a frequent starter following the appointment of Sylvinho in the summer of 2019. However, the Brazilian former player – put in place by new sporting director Juninho Pernambucano – was sacked in October to be replaced by Garcia.
Amid the managerial upheaval and curtailed French season, Traoré was only afforded 14 league starts last season.
However, in that time, there was still an opportunity for Traoré to come under cutting criticism. The former French national team manager Raymond Domenech blasted the 25-year-old’s Champions League outing against Benfica in November, telling L’Équipe: “He’s a tourist, he’s an illusion in defensive work, but in the offensive phase nothing is happening.
“He scored against Benfica, but he was pitiful the whole game. He is useless and you lose almost all the balls he receives. His passes do not arrive, his balls are too short, too soft. For me, he does not like to hurt himself and sometimes falls asleep.”
Much like his 2019/20 season as a whole, there should be some caveats to this brutal lambasting as it focussed on Traoré’s performance in a match he played just minutes after learning his house had been burgled (not for the first time since moving to Lyon).
During a tumultuous campaign, the first since the departure of captain and creator-in-chief Nabil Fekir, the entire Lyon team suffered a significant dip in output. Traoré wasn’t exempt from this but his limited playing time and above average underlying numbers suggest that he didn’t endure a drop off as sharp as his raw goal and assist returns point towards.
Having spent time in Chelsea’s academy and a season on the outskirts of the first team, the adaptation to England shouldn’t be as severe for Traoré as it can be for many new signings. The French top flight is also a robust division and often makes for a good grounding before arriving in the Premier League.
While Villa fans shouldn’t expect the heroics of Traoré’s stellar 2017/18 campaign, if the 25-year-old is afforded a regular starting berth in a system which plays him high and wide on the right, at his best he is an exciting, potent attacking threat the club could desperately do with.