Reports of Aston Villa’s interest in Bayer 04 Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey emerged last week and have since intensified, with major sources confirming the club’s intent to sign the winger.
On Tuesday Fabrizio Romano said via his Twitch channel that Villa were in contact with Leverkusen, but nothing was advanced yet.
Bailey confirmed his desire to move on from Leverkusen on Wednesday, stating on ESPN that “I’m totally ready for the next step. I’ve been working hard to be able to reach where I am today. I feel like I’m at an age and point in my life where I feel like I’m ready for the next step. Hopefully, we can make that happen soon.”
We’ll have to wait and see if Bailey sees Aston Villa as a step above Leverkusen, but it’s clear Villa want the player and have been in contact. In the meantime, let’s consider how Bailey’s potential arrival could affect the starting IX.
Bailey would bring much-needed directness to Aston Villa.
A right winger for Leverkusen last season, Bailey went for 15 goals and 11 assists in 40 matches across all competitions in 2020/21. As per @pgr_analytics on Twitter, his per-90 statistics for assists (0.3), goals (0.5), shots on target percentage (47%), and crosses (3.6) place him firmly among the Bundesliga’s elite.
What makes Bailey so attractive to Aston Villa is his directness from outside positions. A super-quick left-footed player on the right-hand side, the 23-year-old would offer Villa something they have lacked since promotion to the Premier League: a consistent goal-scoring threat from the wing.
Well, what about Bertrand Traoré and Anwar El Ghazi, you ask? True, Traoré and El Ghazi provided better-than-decent goal outputs last season with seven and 10, respectively, but you’d be kidding yourself if you didn’t admit that wild inconsistency held both players–and the club’s attacking prospects–back.
Both players showed flashes of brilliance. Traoré is supremely skilled and is always a threat, but his decision-making is suspect. And, with El Ghazi, we know his antics. When he’s on, he’s on. But some nights, Dutch Ronaldo couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Remember Burnley at Villa Park last year? Eight shots, zero goals in a scoreless draw.
If Villa are to mount a serious top-six challenge they need to improve their attacking prospects. Emi Buendia was a start, but his inclusion in the side is not enough to get Villa over the hump.
Bailey on the right-hand side, with Buendia in the middle and Jack Grealish on the left side, is a horrifying prospect for Premier League back lines. Ollie Watkins–14 goals in his first top-slight season–is ready to break out and could challenge for the golden boot next season with that trio behind him.
We know Aston Villa have money to spend, and the €35 million asking price is presumably in their wheelhouse considering the reported bids made for Emile Smith-Rowe last month.
This bit of business is seemingly a no-brainer for the club, assuming Bailey would accept the move. Could the uncertainty surrounding Grealish’s future make Villa a less attractive move? You would have to assume yes. The club has been surprisingly quiet since signing Buendia and Ashley Young in June. Perhaps targets are apprehensive to sign if Grealish’s future is not sorted.
But if a bid of €35 million is good to go, and Bailey is warm to the move, Villa must pull the trigger. A front-four of Watkins, Grealish, Buendia, and Bailey, with Traoré, El Ghazi, and Trézéguet in reserve, would make Villa–already solid in defense–a formidable side this season.