View: Isolated Leon Bailey must be given licence to thrill on the left wing for Aston Villa
The mercurial Leon Bailey went missing once again for Aston Villa in their 2-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park, as his struggles on the right wing continued.
Unai Emery’s men put in a workmanlike, if not totally convincing, performance to claim their first win in four games in the Premier League – with second-half goals from Ollie Watkins and Emi Buendia enough to send supporters home happy.
However, the threat that Bailey carried was almost non-existent throughout the scrappy encounter, and Emery must now consider a change in role for the Jamaican attacker.
According to WhoScored, before being hauled off on the hour mark, the 25-year-old failed to register a single shot, successfully complete a single dribble or even produce a single key pass. This is the first time all season that Bailey has failed to notch up any of these three key categories, and it highlights just how isolated he has become in a front two with Watkins.
Even on the rare chance that he did receive the ball from John McGinn – who was fielded on the right side of the midfield – he didn’t do enough with the ball, failing to play in a single cross and only making 16 passes at a success rate of 62.5%.
Some supporters may argue that this is a one-off for Bailey this season, but the winger doesn’t look naturally suited to playing on the right side of Emery’s attack. The Jamaican’s greatest asset as a footballer is his using blistering pace to beat defenders in one-on-one situations. When he is fielded on the right wing, he simply can’t bring these qualities to the fore.
Every time the ball reached Bailey on the counterattack, and fans hush into heightened anticipation, he looks to beat the defender with an initial burst of pace before cutting back onto his favoured left foot, time and time again.
This doesn’t only slow down Villa’s counterattacks, but also allows the opposition to get defenders back into place as Bailey drifts into traffic in the middle of the park.
In his one game this season when starting on the left wing – the 4-0 win against Brentford – Bailey picked a goal, an assist and his highest rating of the season (8.77), according to WhoScored. His impact against the Bees was telling, with Thomas Frank substituting his wing-back Mads Roerslev at half-time due to the threat Bailey was carrying.
Although a one-off game in terms of positioning, the former Bayer Leverkusen player made two key passes, two shots on target and successfully completed a season-high four dribbles during his 71-minute appearance.
Something as simple as a change of wings could be enough to ignite Bailey into life in a claret and blue top, and Emery must give the Villa winger the licence to thrill in a slightly altered role.