Aston Villa targeting midfielder Cheick Doucoure

Aston Villa have already made five additions this summer transfer window, and if recent reports are to be believed, their business is not done yet.

Following the sale of Jack Grealish last week, the club is £100 million the richer and still exploring the market for a midfielder. Enter Cheick Doucoure of Lens in France’s Ligue 1, who, beginning on Monday, has emerged as a target.

Grealish’s exit prompted an influx of attacking talent in Leon Bailey and Danny Ings, who arrived in Birmingham two months after Emi Buendia, the club’s new number 10 and record signing. Ashley Young and Axel Tuanzebe were brought in to shore up the defensive corps, but supporters have consistently called out for midfield reinforcements.

Villa reportedly expressed interest in signing James Ward-Prowse from Southampton and Pape Matar Sarr of FC Metz in France earlier in the window, but with both of those ships likely sailed, the club turns to other midfield options, namely Doucoure.

LENS, FRANCE – NOVEMBER 29: Cheick Doucoure of RC Lens runs with the ball during the Ligue 1 match between RC Lens and Angers SCO at Stade Bollaert-Delelis on November 29, 2020 in Lens, France. (Photo by Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images)

A 21-year-old Malian international, Doucoure is a defensive midfielder not only proficient in breaking up plays in the middle of the park but also impressive on the ball. With only one true defensive midfielder in the Villa ranks–Marvelous Nakamba–Doucoure would offer manager Dean Smith a fresh look in front of the backline.

He essentially addresses a glaring need in the squad: a true number 6 that’s good in possession. In 2020/21, Nakamba struggled to get into the side because he was poor when pressured with the ball. Defensively he was strong, and we saw that front and center when he got a run-in late in the year, but it was his deficiencies with the ball that were glaring.

While it’s true Nakamba, broadly, boasts better defensive statistics, Doucoure’s possession metrics are simply on another level. See a comparison of the two in possession via @pgr_analytics below.

Villa have and will continue to try and play progressive, attacking football under Smith. Nakamba may be a defensive stalwart in the center of the park, but if he doesn’t offer enough on the ball and going forward, he becomes a weak link.

Doucoure, though young and untested in the Premier League, would fit nicely in Villa’s midfield. He’d be joining a group of already well-rounded and experienced pros in John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, and Morgan Sanson, but he does feel like the missing piece in terms of style, offering the squad a better-rounded option deeper in the midfield.

It’s believed Lens is asking for €15 million for Doucoure, which, you would have to think, is in Villa’s financial wheelhouse. Conceivably there’s risk in taking on a 21-year-old with no experience playing in England, but Doucoure looks the part. He’s made 84 appearances with Lens since 2018 and tallied five times. There are some serious Idrissa Gueye vibes around Doucoure, and at €15 million, he’s worth the risk.