After another impressive cameo appearance at the weekend, Nicolo Zaniolo is making a case for a more prominent Aston Villa role after the international break.
The 24-year-old Italian international arrived on an initial season-long loan deal from Galatasaray this summer, bolstering our creative and attacking options in the final third.
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Unai Emery will undoubtedly integrate him at the right pace and ensure he meets the demands made of him both tactically and physically to thrive in our system and style of play, and the early signs in that process are promising.
After 17 minutes against Burnley, Zaniolo was given 25 minutes at Anfield in our defeat to Liverpool on Sunday, and he’s gradually building up his match fitness and sharpness to reach a point where he’ll feature more significantly.
It’s been encouraging from him thus far though, as he has come on and made a positive impact in both games with his intent and obvious talent with the ball at his feet on display.
Against Liverpool, he had 18 touches in those 25 minutes, with a 75 percent passing accuracy, one key pass, one successful dribble from one attempt, he won three of five duels while making one clearance, one interception and two tackles.
As reiterated in the video below, he is making his presence felt in both phases of the game, and that will be important for him to impress Emery and earn a key role in the Villa XI.
It’s that physicality, tenacity, directness and technical ability that will hopefully allow Zaniolo to establish himself as a fundamental figure in our squad this season, and there’s a real backing behind him from the Villa faithful to enjoy a successful loan stint before it’s potentially made permanent next summer.
Given the attacking quality available to Emery this season though, the Villa boss does have a challenge on finding the right balance and putting Zaniolo in his most effective role.
We saw him operate on the right side of Ollie Watkins against Burnley and he flourished there in limited minutes having offered an immediate goal threat.
He shifted across to the left side on Sunday and while it wasn’t perhaps as impactful, he still managed to make an impression and so it will be fascinating to see where Emery slots him in.
It’s unlikely that the Spaniard will want to disrupt the partnership between Moussa Diaby and Watkins in the final third, and so could Zaniolo come in out wide to replace Leon Bailey in that role, given he has shown he also has the ability to put in the defensive work too?
Rotation will be fundamental in the second half of September as we play five games over 14 days, and so it may not even necessarily come down to having to fit all these players into one team and system.
Zaniolo will get a bigger role after the international break as it’s needed given the volume of fixtures, but he’s arguably earned it on merit too as he has looked positive in a Villa shirt thus far, and it’s hoped that as his confidence builds, we’ll see more from him to become a decisive and consistent option in our attack.