In Focus: Ollie has Wat it takes to lift Villa from their struggles
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Cian Cheesbrough
LiveScore
Ollie Watkins has netted only once for Aston Villa this season
Ollie Watkins has netted only once for Aston Villa this season

Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa are struggling for goals right now and the attention is naturally turning to striker Ollie Watkins.

Watkins, 26, missed a host of chances to score a winner in Villa’s 0-0 draw with 10-man Leeds last weekend to extend his poor form in front of goal.

Having netted only once this season, the England international’s hopes of making the World Cup squad are fading fast.

As he looks to get back among the goals against lowly Nottingham Forest tonight, we look at what is behind his recent misfires.

Tactical tweaks

The Villans have taken steps to solve their early-season leaky defence in recent games, with only Erling Haaland breaching their backline in outings against Manchester City, Southampton and Leeds.

But that resilience has coincided with a bluntness in attack, with their trip to Elland Road highlighting that most clearly.

Playing against 10 men for the majority of the second half, Villa were unable to make their numerical advantage count despite conjuring up 14 chances.

Things could have been much different had Watkins finished off the three big opportunities he was presented with alongside a further three efforts he squandered.

Having finished as Villa’s top scorer in both seasons since his £28million move from Brentford, he clearly has the goalscoring calibre at Premier League level. 

But it is not quite happening for their No11 this term, with his finish in a defeat against Crystal Palace his only goal in eight league games.

Ollie Watkins missed a host of chances to win the game for Aston Villa at Leeds
Ollie Watkins missed a host of chances to win the game for Aston Villa at Leeds

Important cog

Despite that, Watkins remains a vital part of Gerrard’s system at Villa Park.

The Devon native stretches the opposition defence with his runs in behind, is able to hold the ball up and allows Villa to press from the front.

That he has started 34 of Villa’s 36 games since Gerrard took over last November is a telling sign.

While his general performances have been good this season, the striker has admitted he needs to show more of a ruthless edge.

He said in the summer: "I know I can get up to around 20 goals in this league and hopefully I can do that next year [2022-23].

"Scoring that amount puts you into a different category. You start to be seen as one of the ‘killers’ in front of goal. People always talk about Harry Kane — he’s a very good finisher and that’s why his goal record is so good. 

"There are a lot of players over the years that have been like that and that’s what I want to be known for."

Ollie Watkins has yet to find a ruthless edge in front of goal this season
Ollie Watkins has yet to find a ruthless edge in front of goal this season

Gerrard’s backing

Given Villa’s wealth of options waiting patiently on the bench, calls have increased for Gerrard to try something different in attack.

Danny Ings is perhaps a more natural finisher than Watkins, while hopes are high for academy graduate Cameron Archer, 20, after scoring regularly for England Under-21s and on loan at Preston last term.

And though Gerrard has admitted that pair are pushing for more minutes, he has reiterated his belief in his current starter.

"I don’t have to back Ollie in public. I am not sure that is what he would want," said the 42-year-old boss. 

"Ollie already knows he has every bit of confidence and belief from me. I am right behind him because I think he is a fantastic player.

"A lot of the chances at Leeds he created for himself and he was very close to being the match winner.

"He has to continue to get in the same positions, continue getting the same chances and it will turn for him. One big goal will give him the belief and confidence he may need.

"From my point of view, I also need to look around our other options as well. Now Cam has had a full week of training I know he is ready for some minutes. I know Danny is champing at the bit, he is giving me the eyes."

Ollie Watkins' heat map shows he does plenty across Aston Villa's attack but does not get in the box enough
Ollie Watkins' heat map shows he does plenty across Aston Villa's attack but does not get in the box enough

England hopes

Watkins will know his club struggles are not doing his international prospects any good, either.

Since scoring his second Three Lions goal in a friendly against Ivory Coast in March, he has missed out on the last two squads.

Despite being admired by England boss Gareth Southgate, a host of other Premier League marksmen have jumped ahead of him in the pecking order.

Tammy Abraham’s form for Roma has made himself captain Harry Kane’s deputy, while Brentford spearhead Ivan Toney got his first call-up ahead of the Villa man during the last international break. 

With Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin returning to fitness, Watkins will know he is up against it to make it to Qatar.

Forest chance

A clash against basement boys Forest may have come at the perfect time for Villa’s stuttering forward line.

Prior to this weekend’s action, Steve Cooper’s men had faced the most shots (136) and shots on target (56) of any team in the division, while they have conceded the second-most goals (21).

That should mean opportunities aplenty for Watkins to re-establish his killer touch in front of goal and lift the mood at Villa.

Tags

Aston VillaOllie WatkinsPremier LeagueEngland
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