After seeing Anwar El Ghazi really hit his stride in the past few weeks in the Premier League, Aston Villa boss Dean Smith made the strange decision to drop him from the starting line-up against Manchester City in mid-week.
Smith instead opted to go with summer signing Bertrand Traore, perhaps in the expectation that the Burkina Faso international would provide Villa’s attack with a bit more unpredictability and ability to take players on in counter-attacking situations.
If that was the game-plan, then it really didn’t come off. The former Lyon man badly struggled, and whilst he had flashes of brilliance – not least that exquisite touch that left Kevin De Bruyne for dead – he disappointed with his end product and his defensive work too.
With Newcastle coming to Villa Park on Saturday night, Smith simply has to recall the £7.2m-rated El Ghazi to his starting line-up and drop Traore with immediate effect.
The former had been in great form prior to being relegated to the bench against City, banging in five goals in his previous six Premier League matches, including scoring the winner against Wolves and Villa’s only goal in a 1-1 draw at Stamford Bridge versus Chelsea.
Speaking after his strike against Crystal Palace in late December, former top-flight midfielder Michael Brown said to Football Insider: “Dean Smith told me his training in how he executes those finishes is there for all to see. Craig Shakespeare then backed him straight up when I ran into him later, he just said ‘what a technician he is.’
“He’s practising in training, he has a bad week against Burnley: eight shots, great chances, can’t put one away. Then he scores against West Brom, then goes and puts one in the top bins like he did last night… Magnificent is the word we’re all looking for.”
Smith made a rare mistake against City with his team selection, but can fix that blunder almost immediately by bringing the in-form El Ghazi back into his line-up for the game at home to Newcastle on Saturday.