Aston Villa broke the club’s transfer record to bring in Wesley Moraes from Club Brugge. Wesley managed to score 13 goals and provide six assists from 38 matches with Brugge last season. In this scout report, we show an in-depth tactical analysis of Wesley and see how he might play for Villa in the Premier League next season.
The arrival of the Brazilian striker confirmed that Tammy Abraham (Villa’s top goalscorer last season) will not return. The question is: Will Wesley be able to match or even exceed Abraham to score a lot of goals under manager Dean Smith?
Too dependent on Tammy Abraham last season
At a price of around £22 million, it looks like Wesley will be immediately installed as Villa’s main striker. Will replacing the striker who has scored 26 goals (Abraham) with one who only managed 13 goals going to work? The answer is not that simple.
For a team who scored 86 goals in the English Football League Championship last season (third-best), Villa could be said to be very dependent on Abraham who had returned to Chelsea. The gap between Villa’s top goalscorer (26) and Jonathan Kodjia as Villa’s second-best goalscorer (nine goals) is very large.
Last season Abraham scored 26 goals with 10 goals scored in the six-yard box (second-best in the Championship). The rest were all from inside the penalty area.
Looking at his heatmap we can understand why Abraham scored all of his goals from inside the penalty area over the past season. He did spend a lot of time in the opponent’s penalty area. That is a natural thing for a poacher.
Not only that, Villa’s two main strengths last season were attacking down the wings (38% from the right, 37% from the left) and attempting a lot of crosses (the most in the league with 26 crosses per game).
Not surprisingly, Abraham’s diligent movement to find space in the opponent’s penalty area made him record 0.5 shots from inside the six-yard box per game (joint-best with three other players with more than 30 appearances).
If we look at Wesley, he scored far fewer goals than Abraham, but has been improving year upon year. In 2016/17 Wesley scored six goals from 25 matches in the Belgian Jupiler Pro League. His goal graph did rise to 11 goals (from 38 matches) in 2017/18 and then 13 goals (from 38 matches) in 2018/19.
Can Wesley replace Abraham?
To answer the question above and whether Wesley would fit Villa’s tactics, we need to see if there are similarities between Wesley and Abraham. The first thing we can compare is their heatmap.
When we look at Wesley’s heatmap from last season at Brugge, it’s quite clear that he spends a lot of time in between the opponent’s penalty area and the halfway line. It shows that his role is more of a link-up-striker rather than an inside-the-penalty-area-striker.
Comparing this to Abraham’s heatmap at Villa last season, we can see Abraham more as an inside-the-penalty-area-striker. Wesley, in theory, didn’t spend enough time in an area where he would be able to score many goals.
Wesley will not necessarily solve this problem by increasing his time inside the penalty area. That’s because there are actually specific reasons why Wesley didn’t spend most of his time in the opposition’s box.
Abraham and Wesley are not the same types of strikers. With his movement, Abraham could score a lot of goals. But with a different type of movement, Wesley has the advantage to be a target man.
Potential target man
Wesley’s goal record isn’t promising enough, but Aston Villa supporters might be a little comforted when they look at his strength, movement, and height (1.91 meters).
With those three attributes, Wesley is more of “a ball-solid attacker who can also play with his back towards goals,” according to Michel Preud’homme, his manager from 2016 to 2017 at Brugge.
Wesley’s heatmap above and the two images below can show if he really tends to drop deep to pick up the ball.
Last season, Brugge often played in a 3-5-2 formation. In reality, he actually drops deep to receive the ball more often and transforms the Brugge formation into 3-5-1-1. He could even drop very deep, as shown in the images below.
At Villa next season, Wesley will probably play in a completely different formation. So far Smith prefers 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 formations. Wesley needed a lot of adjustments to understand playing as a single striker and becoming a target man.
The problem is, he may spend too much time turning his back to the goal. In these situations, he didn’t have a lot of passing options at Brugge last season because the midfielders had difficulty positioning themselves. They often didn’t realise there’s a lot of space they can utilise when Wesley holds the ball with his back towards goals.
It was the difficulty that eventually led Wesley to force his body to turn and then shoot from outside the penalty area (21 of a total of 79 shots) instead of passing to the flanks.
That might not happen at Villa next season as he will be flanked by players such as Anwar El Ghazi and Diego Jota. Wesley can help Villa’s wingers when he drops deep to pass the ball to them instead of directly shooting from outside of the penalty area.
His key attributes in strength, movement, and height can also help other Villa players in the deeper position such as Conor Hourihane, John McGinn, and especially Jack Grealish (2.3 key passes and 1.8 dribbles per game) if he plays as a link-up-striker.
The chemistry can be improved in training, coaching, and playing matches that he went through with his teammates.
Crosses to shots converter
For a striker, the movement is really important. But of course, the scoring ability is far more important. Even so, we can also value the finishing qualities of a striker by using the expected goals (xG). This aspect does show some of Wesley’s quality.
In 2017/18 for example, he managed to score 11 goals from xG which was only 7.58 (exceeded by 3.42). This means he can score goals from difficult situations.
With a height of 1.91 meters, Wesley also often uses his strength. One of the most visible examples is in the example below where he turned his back to the goal and was guarded by a tall defender but eventually still managed to score.
Then in 2018/19, Wesley managed to score 13 goals from xG of 13.72 (this time fell behind by only 0.72). Although the numbers were not high, Wesley has managed to improve at a young age.
From that many goals, Wesley managed to score six goals from an open play situation, six goals from a crossing situation, and only one from a penalty kick. He recorded 2.07 shots per game on average, but still fell behind to Abraham’s 2.90 shots per game last season (the best at Villa and eighth-best among the strikers in Championship).
One interesting thing from Wesley is his ability to finish a cross. He scored six goals from only 3.62 xG from crosses.
He really used his height so he could score three headed goals from a total of 14 headers last season. In the end, he also managed to record 12 shots from within a six-yard box.
Prediction: Villa will rely more on crosses
The good statistics for converting crosses to shots can be matched with what happened at Villa last season, at least on paper. As written at the beginning, Villa’s main strengths are their tendency to attack down the flanks and their crossing attempts.
Some teammates who could be resourceful for Wesley might be Jota who recorded 1.9 accurate crosses per game (seventh-best in Championship), Connor Hourihane, and Anwar El Ghazi, both of which recorded 1.1 accurate crosses per game.
Last season, the crosses statistics that can be seen above have greatly affected Villa’s play, especially for Abraham as their main striker.
The crosses combined with Abraham’s movement in the opponent’s penalty area also allowed him to record 2.1 shots from inside the penalty area (second-best after Championship’s top goalscorer Teemu Pukki).
But Championship is a different competition compared to Jupiler Pro League. Moreover, Villa will also play in the Premier League in 2019/20. That’s stepping up in levels for both Wesley and Villa.
Villa as a newly promoted team on paper is weaker than the other teams. That will make Villa likely to change their style of play to become less dominant than what they have been in the Championship (with an average of 53.4% ball possession; fifth-best in Championship).
Based on the evidence in the Premier League last season, Brighton and Hove Albion (29.1%), Bournemouth (27.6%), and Cardiff City (26.2%) were the top three teams in cross completion. The three of them finished in the bottom half of the table.
So, one change that I predict will happen is Villa will send crosses more often especially if they experience a deadlock in facing stronger teams. Interestingly, this can be an advantage for Wesley.
If we review his transfer fee, Wesley Moraes should be Aston Villa’s main striker for 2019/20. Our analysis shows that Villa’s tactics last season did not necessarily match Wesley’s style of play which tended to be quite different than that of Tammy Abraham.
But playing in the Premier League is certainly not the same as playing in the Championship. Dean Smith might change his approach and style of play when facing stronger teams in the English top-flight. If that happens, Wesley can be a striker that fits a certain situation and condition.
If Villa play with Smith’s favourite 4-3-3 formation, they need Wesley as a target man who often drops deeper. And if Villa change their style of play to put more emphasis on relying on crosses, then Wesley may have to spend more time in the box and will be expected to convert as many crosses as he possibly can.
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