As Aston Villa enter the international break, a question that lingers on many fans mind’s is how to fit both Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins in the same XI. Throughout Villa’s first three games, Danny Ings has been the spearhead of Villa’s attack, playing as a sole striker in Smith’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.
However, with Ollie Watkins likely to return to full fitness after the international break, Smith has the tough decision on how to fit both strikers in the side. Watkins, who netted 14 times for Villa last season has the flexibility to play as a winger as previously shown under Smith at Brentford, but his performances last season would suggest that playing as a number nine is his preferred position.
Why Ings and Villa are the Perfect Fit
Ings, who moved from Southampton in August for a reported £30 million transfer fee, is a proven Premier League striker, having scored 46 times for Southampton since 2018. Since the 2019/20 season Ings has had a 32% shot conversion rate, a percentage that cannot be bettered by anyone throughout the league. Couple this with his big chance conversion rate of 61% and Villa are looking at the classic number 9 who won’t miss many chances when played through on goal.
In the 2020/21 season, Villa lacked ruthlessness in front of goal despite netting 55 times. We sat 14th in Conversion Rate in the league table although we had the 5th highest number of attempts on goal (only bettered by Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and Leeds).
Although we are only three games into the new season, the impact of Ings can already be seen from a statistical point of view. So far this season Villa have struggled to create clear cut chances, sitting bottom of the league in total shots on goal. However, in contrast to that Villa now possess the highest conversion rate in the league. It is still early days, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Villa’s conversion rate continued to thrive due to the inclusion of Ings.
Coupling the clinical touch of Ings with the pace and power of Watkins should create for a dynamic strike force, however, finding a balance to have both in the side is another issue. Villa have struggled to dominate games in the midfield so far this season, so finding space for both these strikers without leaving us shorthanded in midfield will be a tough balance to strike.
How a 4-1-3-2 could look for Villa
When looking at potential ways of fitting both Ings and Watkins in the starting XI as centre-forwards, a possible 4-1-3-2 could be one to look out for.
The Back Four:
The back four would be as usual for Villa, just with a slight twist offensively. With a midfield protector sitting directly in front of our back four (effectively acting as a third centre-back when off the ball), the fullbacks would have the license to push forward and offer width for the team. Both Ashley Young and Matty Cash are ex-wingers so feel at home offensively, whilst Matt Targett showed his attacking abilities last season, linking up with Jack Grealish time after time.
The Midfield Balance:
With the full-backs pushing forward in this formation, the protective shield for the back four would be essential. Luckily Villa posses two players in Marvelous Nakamba and Douglas Luiz who feel at home performing this role. This position would be the key to the whole game-plan, ensuring that Villa doesn’t get caught out in transition as we have done on numerous occasions this season.
I’m happy here 👊🏾🔥 pic.twitter.com/xSChrB8qi2
— Douglas Luiz (@dgoficial) September 2, 2021
In front of this holder would be a three-man midfield. The width would not be a necessity due to the forward-thinking fullbacks, so starting Emi Buendia on the right, Luiz, Morgan Sanson or Jacob Ramsey in the middle and placing John McGinn in a more advanced role on the left would still allow for plenty of creativity. McGinn would be allowed to flourish in a slightly more offensive role which has proven so successful for Scotland, a position in which he has scored 10 goals in 36 appearances.
The Front Two:
Ings and Watkins would start out as split strikers, with Watkins roaming into the wide channels occupying defender’s thoughts. This should then allow for Ings to find pockets of space in and around the box, the likes of which he succeeded in doing against Newcastle last weekend.
Watkins would have the flexibility to make runs out wide playing with the freedom to drift wherever he sees best. With balls also coming into the box from high wide full-backs, Ings and Watkins shouldn’t be short of chances to hit the back of the net.
Although this is just one of many ways in which Smith could line up, we should feel lucky to be in a position where we have healthy competition for places. After a season in which Villa were over-reliant on Grealish, the shrewd recruitment of Ings should make for one of the most feared attacks in the league.