Every year it can be fascinating to follow the strategies used by clubs newly promoted to the Premier League to build their squad.
Take this year, for example, as the likes of Norwich City, promoted as champions, have made small alterations and re-signed existing players on improved contracts.
Contrast this approach to Aston Villa, who have spent at around the £100million mark, and we immediately see the differences in strategy emerge.
One of the players signed by Aston Villa for this coming season is Brazilian forward Wesley who has signed from Club Brugge for a reported £22m.
This signing appears to be a clear reaction to the loss of the young English forward Tammy Abraham, who has returned to Chelsea following the end of his loan spell, with Wesley offering a similar playing profile.
Both are physically imposing forwards who are capable of leading the line on their own or playing with a second forward alongside them.
When we look beyond that, however, we start to see differences between the two. Abraham, despite being younger, has a higher ceiling and is better with the ball at feet. Wesley, on the other hand, is a more instinctive finisher in and around the penalty area at this stage of his career.
The Brazilian displays excellent movement and timing in the box. He is especially adept at playing on the blind side of the nearest defender before making late movements that take him into space when the ball is being played into the penalty area.
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To fully understand the potential impact Wesley may have this season for Aston Villa we first have to consider the kind of systems that he was used to playing in whilst in Belgium.
Here we see the most used formations by Club Brugge over the course of the 2018/19 season. As you can see they spent 73% of their time in either a 3-5-2 or a 3-5-1-1.
In each of these systems, Wesley was used to playing with close support, allowing him to combine before moving into the penalty area.
The heatmap for Wesley last season shows a striker who played inside the penalty area a great deal but who could also drop into deeper positions in order to bring others into play.
His ability to hold the ball up and bring other players into play could well be key for Aston Villa as they prepare for life in the top flight.
The shot map for Wesley over the course of the 2018/19 season is also helpful in allowing Villa fans to understand the kind of forward that they have signed.
As you can clearly see the clear majority of shots from the forward were concentrated in the penalty area. This will be fine going forward if Villa are able to provide the kind of service that Wesley will thrive from.
In a side that struggles for consistent possession and will have to play on the counter-attack, though, the Brazilian will have to be more adept at creating his own chances.
Now we need to consider the systems that Dean Smith used at Villa last season. As you can see 4-1-4-1 was the most commonly used system although 4-3-3 was used in 25% of the season.
The focus for Wesley will be on making sure the two central midfielders are capable of moving into supporting positions when Villa are in possession. Otherwise, we may see Wesley largely isolated.
In this tactical analysis, we examine him more closely to show Aston Villa fans what they can expect from their new forward.
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When watching Wesley play, with his side in possession, the first thing that jumps out is that the Brazilian is fantastic with his movement to create space in the penalty area.
At the top level of football, the difference between a striker who scores consistently and one who consistently fails to find the net is their movement in the penalty area.
Watch Wesley closely and you will often see the forward isolate a defender and then pull away into a pocket of space while the ball is in the wide areas.
Here we see Wesley moving in towards the penalty area as his teammate attacks in the wide-right area.
The key in finding space from the forward comes in the way that he originally makes a movement towards the far post, dragging a defender with him, Wesley then changes direction and sprints in front of the covering defender in order to meet the cross at the front post.
This type of movement is designed to pull defenders out of position and force them off balance. The forward player can then take advantage of the fact the defenders are not set through quick changes of direction in order to attack either the front post or far post.
Wesley is excellent at timing these changes of direction in order to find a pocket of space that he can exploit.
We see a similar situation here with the ball this time on the opposite side of the field.
On this occasion we see Wesley isolated against a single defender in the middle of the penalty area.
The defender, initially, is in a good position and will feel as though he has the threat of Wesley controlled. As soon as the defender turns his attention towards the ball, however, we see the forward take advantage to attack the space.
The defender’s attention turns away from Wesley and, as it does, the Brazilian forward bursts past him on his blind side (behind) and attacks the front post. This is an instant cue for the wide player and the ball is played immediately to meet the run of the forward.
While we see the movement from Wesley allowing him to find space in the area and he is a strong finisher with his feet when the ball is on the ground, he is arguably more dominant in the air.
The same kinds of movement, occupying the blindside and timing runs across the face of the defensive players, allow him to meet balls played across the face of goal at speed and with excellent timing.
Wesley, however, is equally comfortable when challenging defensive players for 50/50 high balls, whether winning headers or simply looking to bring others into play through flick on’s. This is of course an aspect of his game that should go down well in the Premier League.
We see once again in this example that Wesley once again times his movements in the penalty area perfectly.
With the ball in the wide area on the right-hand side the forward is initially marked by two defensive players. As the ball is about to be played in, however, we see Wesley make a move in front of the front post defender in order to meet the cross and head towards goal.
This time the initial pass comes from a deeper position.
It is now a common theme but you can see that Wesley has initially positioned himself behind the covering defender on that players blindside.
From this initial position the forward will make eye contact with the man in possession of the ball before making a quick angled run across the face of the defender.
He is then free to meet the cross at full pace in space in the penalty area. Once again Wesley gets a headed shot at goal.
In modern football, of course, it is important that a forward player is more than just a penalty box predator. They have to be able to hold the ball up in order to bring others into play and make movements that will drag defensive players out of position.
Wesley, as a player who profiles as a traditional target man, is strong when it comes to holding the ball up. He is also underrated when it comes to bringing others into play and linking with midfielders in the attacking phase. His touch and vision allow him to play quickly with one or two touches.
In this example, we see Wesley initially isolated against more than one defender as his team are looking to access the final third.
In order to facilitate this the forward drops off the attacking line into a deeper position. This movement allows the ball to be progressed into him and Wesley has the strength and balance to receive the ball and hold off the defensive players.
As soon as the ball is played into Wesley however he shifts it backwards at an angle to a supporting player. This immediately changes the angle of attack to catch the defence out as they shift towards Wesley to close the ball down.
The forward is then able to spin and move into the penalty area looking for the next pass.
A similar situation here but this time the starting position for Wesley is noticeably deeper.
As the ball is progressed into the wide-area we see the ball immediately played inside into the pocket of space that Wesley has occupied.
As the ball comes into the Brazilian he does not even take the ball down but immediately plays a volley into the path of a midfielder who is advancing from a deeper line.
This pass from Wesley shows his technique and understanding of space as he releases a teammate who is moving into a better position. After playing this pass in the first instance we again see Wesley look to run into advanced areas to enter the penalty area.
Signing forward players form the Belgian top flight carries with it the same risk as signing them from the Dutch Eredivisie.
It can be difficult to accurately judge the level of opposition that they have played against to this point in their career. The first few matches of the season will give us a better indication as to whether Wesley will be able to physically dominate English defenders as he has done elsewhere.
Aston Villa have spent and bet big on their return to the top flight. It will be interesting to see whether this strategy is successful in helping them survive and kick on at the Premier League level.
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