Leander Dendoncker handed Aston Villa lifeline after failed summer move, January exit still possible
Aston Villa midfielder Leander Dendoncker looked a certain shoo-in to become a summer casualty at Villa Park after several exit links, and with the transfer window over he surprisingly still finds himself at the club.
The 28-year-old only made the switch to Villa Park from Wolverhampton Wanderers for a reported £15m last September. However, after just 21 appearances since, the Belgian looked to be moving on again, especially after the signing of fellow Belgian Youri Tielemans.
Unai Emery now possesses a well-stocked and quality midfield weaponry with Tielemans, Douglas Luiz, John McGinn, and Boubacar Kamara all capable of fulfilling Dendoncker’s defensive midfield role which certainly damages his chances of starting games for Aston Villa this season.
Transfer guru Fabrizio Romano reported on 4 July, that the Villans were willing to listen to offers for Dendoncker, despite being rated by manager Unai Emery.
Also, French media outlet Foot Mercato reported on 6 July that Dendoncker was attracting interest from Premier League clubs and Serie A, while French Ligue 1 outfits Stade Rennais, OGC Nice and Lyon had also taken information on the player.
But no such move transpired and the Belgian sat out Aston Villa’s summer preparations with an injury, while he also missed the club’s tour of the USA after becoming a father.
He’s been unavailable for Villa’s first three games of the new season but returned to the matchday squad in their 3-0 win over Hibernian in the Europa Conference League qualifying second-leg tie (31 August) but failed to make an appearance.
Dendoncker only featured in one of Villa’s final four games of last season, as he came off the bench in the last three minutes of the 1-1 draw at Anfield. He started six of the 25 league games which Emery took charge of, and impressed in home wins over Manchester United, Newcastle United and Fulham.
There is no doubting the Belgian international’s defensive contributions, finishing the 2022/23 season in the 97th percentile for interceptions made by Premier League midfielders last season (1.88 per 90) as well as the top 10% of his counterparts for blocks (2.07 per 90) and passes blocked (1.68 per 90), such defensive numbers certainly make him a highly-rated commodity in Emery’s thinking. [FBREF]
Ahead of Villa’s win against Burnley last weekend, Emery hinted at a potential lifeline for Dendoncker, stating he could still become a useful player at Villa Park but needs to find consistency.
He said (as transcribed by Birmingham Live, 25 August): “I have had 10 months with him and I am always trying to find [how he can] be regular every day, every month, training, playing and getting his best performance, for some different circumstances he didn’t do it.
“Now, hopefully on Monday he will start to train again with the group, hopefully, he is going to keep consistent for a long time because I think he can help us.”
At 28 years old, the former Wolves has to be playing regularly as he enters the prime years of his career and unfortunately, that may not be possible with the number of quality Emery now possess at his disposal in the deep-lying midfield role.
In fact, it’s his work on the ball that has somewhat led to his lack of usefulness in the Villa team and forced Emery to pay Tielemans the big wages to jump across the Midlands.
Dendoncker sits in the bottom 25% of Premier League midfielders for touches per game (48.70), a total which is significantly less than Tieleman’s average of 72.07, Luiz’s 65.12 and Kamara’s 57.99.
He also is in the worst 10% for miscontrols (0.99 per 90) and only managed an average of 33 successful passes per outing, which again is less than the aforementioned trio.
Emery is currently undergoing a change of tactical approach at Villa Park, demanding his side to become a more proactive and progressive team in which Dendoncker doesn’t possess the attributes to thrive in.
For a less possession-heavy side Dendoncker could absolutely fit well in, becoming one of the best defensive midfielders at what he does, but it’s clear Aston Villa are heading in a new progressive and controlling system under Emery’s management which leaves no room for the Belgian to contribute to.
Between now and the January transfer window, it doesn’t look like the Belgian will be given much thought to the Aston Villa starting eleven, even with the added Europa Conference League demands.
And for that reason alone, a winter exit may still be possible, or who knows, a Saudi Arabian club may come calling before their own transfer window comes to an end next week. What’s certain, is that Dendoncker’s future at the club is desperately looking bleak right now.
In other Aston Villa news, Philippe Coutinho has chosen his preferred destination this summer