Aston Villa's Champions League dreams nearly shattered by defender's nightmare

Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

Aston Villa's hopes of securing a coveted Champions League spot were nearly derailed by a lacklustre performance from left-back Lucas Digne in their thrilling 3-3 draw against Liverpool on Monday night.

The Frenchman struggled to contain the Reds' star forward Mohamed Salah, consistently losing possession and failing to provide adequate defensive cover in what could have been his last game at Villa Park amid speculation over his future.

Sky Sports commentator Alan Smith didn't mince words when assessing Digne's performance, pointing out that the 30-year-old defender was nowhere near the level required to limit Liverpool's threat down the right flank. Smith remarked during the first half, as the same problem persisted throughout the match.

"Lucas Digne on that far side, we do not know what's going on with him. He's having an absolute nightmare."

Smith's criticism highlights the glaring issues in Digne's game, which have become increasingly apparent in recent weeks. As a seasoned professional with a wealth of experience, Digne's inability to cope with Liverpool's attacking prowess raises serious questions about his form and future at the club.

A closer look at the statistics reveals the extent of Digne's struggles against Liverpool. The left-back lost possession a staggering 23 times, more than any other Villa player over the 90 minutes.

He also found himself on the losing end of most duels, winning just seven out of 14 contested, while committing two fouls and being dribbled past once.

Digne's defensive frailties were particularly evident in Jarell Quansah's goal, where a lack of marking from the left side allowed Liverpool to capitalise.

This lapse in concentration and positional awareness underscores the growing concerns surrounding Digne's ability to perform at the highest level consistently.

Digne's attacking contributions were minimal, as he completed only two out of five attempted dribbles, made a solitary key pass, and found his target with just two of his five crosses.

These attacking contributions were simply not enough to offset his defensive shortcomings, leaving manager Unai Emery with much to ponder ahead of next season.

As the summer transfer window approaches and Digne set to turn 31 next season, his future at Villa Park hangs in the balance. The former Everton defender has played a part in 32 Premier League games this season, yet he has registered only four goal contributions – one goal and three assists. Additionally, he has created just four big chances and averaged a mere 1.1 key passes per game.

Moreover, when compared to his positional peers in Europe's big five leagues over the past year, Digne ranks in the bottom 84% for successful take-ons per 90 (0.34) and the bottom 79% for progressive passes per 90 (2.96). These figures suggest that he may be on the decline as a player, especially from an attacking perspective.

As Aston Villa look to establish themselves as a Champions League regular, upgrading the left-back position could be a priority for Emery. While Digne has been a decent option since the Spaniard took charge in 2022, his performance against Liverpool highlighted the need for a more reliable and dynamic presence on the left flank.

The point earned against Liverpool keeps Villa in the hunt for a top-four finish, but they will be hoping for a slip-up from Tottenham Hotspur in the remaining games. Jhon Duran's late heroics, scoring two goals in three minutes, secured the crucial draw and ensured that Villa's Champions League dreams remain alive, despite being 3-1 down in the 85th minute of play.

Emery will undoubtedly be assessing his squad and considering potential changes to ensure Villa can compete at the highest level next term. The Frenchman's future at the club may hang in the balance, as Villa look to strengthen their defensive options and mount a serious challenge for Champions League football in the coming years.

With two years remaining on his current deal, this summer could be the ideal chance for Villa to find a buyer for the 30-year-old and reinvest in a more dynamic left-back.