In Focus: Leon can Bail out Villa by filling Grealish's shoes
Jack Grealish’s departure is a blow for Aston Villa — but it has done little to dampen the mood in the Midlands.
With the club having already splashed the cash on a series of eye-catching new additions, spirits remain high at Villa Park despite Grealish's £100million move to Manchester City.
Emi Buendia, Danny Ings and the returning Ashley Young have all been snapped up but perhaps the most exciting acquisition is 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen star Leon Bailey.
Read on as we examine why the £25m signing can help make the Villans stronger than ever this season.
A direct dribbler
Bailey is a pacy and direct winger who enjoys taking on defenders in one-on-one situations.
That is a skill set Villa will most certainly need as Grealish was by far their most prolific dribbler last term.
On paper they have picked the perfect man to fill that particular void.
Their new recruit dribbled past the third-most players in the Bundesliga last season (90) and was in the league’s top 10 for both progressive carries (174) and carries into the penalty area (36).
Of course, there is far more to replacing the England star than just his dribbling ability but Bailey looks to be an ideal alternative in that respect.
An improving end product
Despite Bailey’s flair and dynamism with the ball at his feet, his end product has been inconsistent to say the least — he failed to reach a double-figure goal tally in any of his Bundesliga campaigns.
But there have been signs of improvement. Last season was the Jamaica international’s most productive and he outperformed his expected goals (xG) total of 6.19 to score nine times in the league.
Dean Smith will be hoping he develops greater composure in front of goal with age and experience.
A similar profile
With Bertrand Traore already on the books, the signing of Bailey may be a curious one for some Villa fans.
Both are left-footed wingers who are at their best when cutting in from the right-hand side.
But there is little doubt the club are making an upgrade in terms of quality, even if they share stylistic similarities.
If we look at completed dribbles, Bailey’s 3.33 per 90 over the last year puts him in the 92nd percentile when compared with wingers and attacking midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues.
In contrast, Traore is way down in the 64th percentile with 1.98 per 90 and it is a similar story for everything from crosses into the penalty area (0.5 vs 0.27) to key passes (2.03 vs 1.28).
Transformation of style
Following the unveiling of Bailey as a Villa player, boss Smith was full of praise for his new addition.
He said: "Leon is a hugely exciting young striker with great pace and creativity."
Describing the new signing as a 'striker' is surprising but could hint at an alteration in Villa's style.
Without a playmaker of Grealish’s quality it will be difficult for Villa to take control of games in the way they did last season.
Rather than attempting the impossible task of replacing the local hero, Smith may opt to play a counter-attacking system instead.
He could utilise Bailey higher up the pitch in order to run at opposition defences with his devastating pace.
The departure of Grealish has left an opening for a new fan favourite at Villa Park — and Ings, Buendia and Bailey all have the opportunity to take on the mantle.
The Jamaican wideman has the flair, creativity and dynamism to capture the hearts of the club’s supporters — if he is able to adapt quickly to the Premier League.
Under the tutelage of Smith and in an ever-improving Villa side, Bailey can take his new team to greater heights and make a name for himself in the process.