After seeing Aston Villa’s young guns put up a brave fight against Liverpool in the FA Cup third round last week, Dean Smith will no doubt have been suitably impressed with a number of his academy stars.
The Villa boss, and the club’s entire first-team, missed the clash against the Reds, with Mark Delaney taking charge of the side and the squad being made up of players from the U23s and U18s set-up.
And whilst Louie Barry no doubt picked up the headlines for being the man to score Villa’s only goal of the game, it’s Kaine Kesler who may be best suited to make a more immediate impression in the Premier League.
The 17-year-old made his first-team debut in that game against Jurgen Klopp’s side, and he more than held his own. As per Sofascore, his match rating of 6.9 was the second-highest overall of any outfield player for Villa, and when you look at the stats, it’s no surprise to see why.
He completed three of his six attempted dribbles, which was more than any Villa player on the pitch and made a whopping ten clearances (second-most) including one off the line as he proved that he doesn’t shirk his defensive duties either.
He also won seven out of his 13 duels too, showing that, despite coming up against a team full of seasoned professionals, he was more than able to handle himself in the physical challenges against top players.
The fact that he was playing out of his natural position – he’s spent his academy career at right-back but played further forward against Liverpool – simply adds weight to the argument that he looks more ready-made to adapt to the rigours and demands of the Premier League than some of his teammates in that game.
In fact, speaking to The Athletic, one source said: “He looks like he’s got a real chance of featuring for the first team in the future. His speed is frightening and that could set him apart.”
And writing for The Athletic, Gregg Evans revealed that “senior players have been taken back by his blistering pace and his desire to make an impression when called upon”, and that “Smith rates the rapid right-back highly”.
If he can play well in a young side against the Premier League champions, then he has every chance of competing in the top division when surrounded by Villa’s best first-team players.
Whilst Barry may be the one Villa fans keep a close eye on after his goal-scoring performance the other day, Kesler’s versatility and mature performance indicates he might see him make his mark on the first-team sooner than the young striker.