By Anthony Onifade

23rd Mar, 2023 | 12:10pm

Aston Villa to revive interest in £45m-rated Athletic Bilbao ace Nico Williams, he's a clear upgrade on Leon Bailey

Plenty of criticism has been directed at Leon Bailey this season, and the winger could well be playing for his Aston Villa future after his inconsistent showings in recent weeks.

The Jamaican attacker has shown glimpses of his undoubted match-winning ability since his £25m from Bayer Leverkusen in 2021, but they have not been shown on a regular basis to the club’s liking.

Bailey has started 10 of the 14 Premier League matches Emery has taken charge of since replacing Steven Gerrard in the Villa hot seat in November, scoring just two goals and providing a single assist which came up against Bournemouth on Saturday [18 March].

Villa boss Unai Emery has often sided with Emi Buendia as an alternative to the attacker alongside Ollie Watkins – a move that suggests he may not fully trust Bailey to perform up to his exacting standards on a weekly basis.

And with the club desperately on the lookout for attacking targets this summer to boost Emery’s attacking weaponry, they may well have located the ideal alternative to come in and potentially take Bailey’s place next season.

According to the Daily Mail [24 January] are set to revive their interest in Athletic Bilbao forward Nico Williams, after their failed £45million attempt to sign him in the winter window.

The 22-year-old has emerged as one of Europe’s most exciting young forwards following his rapid emergence in the Athletic Bilbao first team over the past year, even being rewarded with an unexpected spot in Luis Enrique’s Spain squad for the World Cup in Qatar.

Unai Emery is desperate to add to his attacking weaponry, having failed to do so during the January window when the Villans were reportedly willing to pay the winger’s £45million release clause [Dominic King, 24 January].

However, the youngster did not want to leave the Basque country but that reportedly hasn’t deterred Emery’s desire to get his man. Villa remain determined to sign Williams, who played a key part in Spain’s World Cup squad in Qatar, as the former Villarreal wants to sign a marquee winger.

It is hoped that the wonderkid, who is still the Lions’ number one priority, will be convinced by a strong end to the season at Villa Park.

Williams has proven a shining light in Bilbao’s season, enjoying a swift rapid rise to become one of Europe’s most electric and exciting wingers and his numbers this season certainly prove that he can be a telling upgrade on Bailey at Villa Park.

So far this season, the 20-year-old has registered four goals and four assists from 25 La Liga outings, that’s more contributions than Bailey’s seven. Williams has also registered more shots per game [WhoScored], more key passes and considerably more dribbles than Bailey, as shown below.

Moreover, Williams’ underlying stats are incredible for a player his age. As per FBRef, he ranks in the 99th percentile amongst midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues for progressive carries per 90, successful take-ons per 90 and touches in the attacking penalty area highlighting his incredible knack of progressing his team up the pitch whilst possessing the art in beating his markers with ease.

These stats are infinitely more than Bailey’s underlying numbers.

It’s easy to see why Williams is rated at £45m. He is easily one of the best young forwards in La Liga, possessing similar dribbling attributes to Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior.

Moreover, Williams is also more creative than Bailey, and that’s a commodity Emery demands from his attacking forwards in abundance. He ranks 10th of all players in La Liga this season for shot-creating actions [80] [FBRef], more than Bailey’s 47.

The fleet-footed forward also ranks 5th in Spanish First Division for successful take-ons [49], 2nd for carries into the opposition penalty area [48] and ranks second for progressive passes received [239] meaning he is the one his teammates regularly look to for attacking invention in the final third. In Emery’s progressive and inventive style at Villa Park, the 20-year-old would fit in seamlessly, arguably providing more consistency in the attacking third than Bailey.

With Williams’ sizeable potential, attacking quality and suitability to Emery’s style, £45million seems an absolute snip – a real marquee signing, forget Bailey.

In other Aston Villa news, players could now be fighting for their futures at Villa Park with a mid-table finish all but secured.