By Sam Stone

2nd Apr, 2023 | 5:30pm

Danny Ings' exit catalyst for 'brilliant' Aston Villa season-defining transfer decision

Danny Ings’ departure from Aston Villa certainly raised a few eyebrows in the January window, particularly after the club decided against signing a proven Premier League replacement.

The 30-year-old was the club’s top scorer in the 2022/23 season before he sealed his move to West Ham United midway through the transfer window.

However, Ings’ exit has seen Ollie Watkins turn into one of the most in-form strikers in Europe due to his consistent presence in a central role.

Talking on BBC’s Match of the Day, Micah Richards highlighted how Watkins being the “focal point” has had a dramatic impact on Villa under Unai Emery.

“I think it helps when Watkins knows he’s going to be the number one striker,” said Richards (Match of the Day, 1hr 21m 12s, 1 April).

“Sometimes he was playing Ings on the left but they’ve got their focal point now and he’s doing a brilliant job.”

Statistically, the 27-year-old has been transformed since the departure of Ings. Since the former Liverpool man’s £12million move to the London Stadium on 20 January (The Athletic, 20 January), Watkins has eight goals in nine games – this cannot be a coincidence.

The Englishman has been operating in a more central role and according to Wyscout, that has seen his shot accuracy increase from 60 per cent to 74 per cent. It’s a small increase, but Watkins taking up a more central position has seen more of his efforts hit the back of the net.

Furthermore, there’s also been a slight increase (0.15) in his XG (expected goals). However, in some of Villa’s recent victories, the 27-year-old has been hitting the back of the net with low-quality chances. He’s been turning low XG shots into goals and that could well be down to the trust Emery has in the frontman.

Realistically, Watkins knows he will be given a starting berth by the Spaniard in most games between now and the end of the season; the pressure is somewhat off.

When he gets a half chance he’s not thinking about it too much and instead hitting the back of the net more frequently.

With Villa now firmly in the race for European football, the England international has a golden chance to continue his hot streak ahead of what could be a huge 2023/24 season for the club. Watkins will certainly feel confident knowing he’s going to be Villa’s frontman for the foreseeable future.

In other Aston Villa news, a first-team player is expected to return after the international break with a protective brace after what happened in 2023.