Aston Villa gave an indication of their ambitions this season by battling to a 1-1 draw against Premier League champions Manchester City on Saturday evening, with only a controversial VAR call potentially robbing them of all three points.
It marked a stark contrast from their previous three matches which all ended in timid defeats, and the result against Pep Guardiola’s City juggernaut might well be the catalyst for Steven Gerrard’s side heading into the next few weeks.
This poor start to the campaign has been a surprise considering just how strong a summer transfer window Villa had, as Gerrard brought in players such as Boubacar Kamara and Diego Carlos from European-competing clubs and made Philippe Coutinho’s loan move permanent.
Deadline day produced two more arrivals in Leander Dendoncker and Jan Bednarek, but it might have been even better for Villa…
Lange could have added another player on deadline day, with Spanish outlet Marca reporting that Villa were keen on signing Kondogbia, but a move never materialised.
The £114k-p/w star would have formed a solid duo in the middle of the Villa midfield with Kamara, as they play in similar positions; and with the club lacking that bite in the centre of the park which has contributed to their poor start, a move for the Central African Republic international would have been useful.
Nicknamed the “octopus” for his excellent ball recovery in midfield. Kondogbia is ranked in the top 11% for ball recoveries compared to his fellow peers in the big five European leagues with an average of 11.85 per match.
This is higher than Kamara’s 9.48 recoveries per match, meaning that the 29-year-old could focus on the defensive duties in the midfield and let the Frenchman utilise his passing ability to dictate the play (69.01 passes completed per match, 96th percentile).
Roger Gonzalez dubbed Kondogbia “unbelievable” a few seasons ago when there were discussions over who would make the France World Cup squad in 2018 (prior to him switching his allegiances to the African nation), and it looks like Gerrard has missed out on further bolstering his midfield.
The 29-year-old has featured only twice for Atletico Madrid in La Liga this season, but still managed to make one key pass and 1.5 tackles per match, showing his class even though his game-time has clearly been limited.
Gerrard might be tempted to make another approach in the January transfer window, but it could prove to be too late by then, and he may regret not being able to have sealed the deal last week.