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Villa: Dendoncker was a bright spark for Belgium

Aston Villa’s Leander Dendoncker has found regular minutes hard to come by since making the midlands switch from Wolverhampton to Aston this summer.

With Wolverhampton Wanderers no longer requiring the player’s services, Villa swooped in and offered the 27-year-old a place to rekindle his best form, signing the Belgium colossus in a £13m deal at the end of the summer transfer window. 

Despite playing in eight fixtures since his switch, Dendoncker has played just 298 minutes across all competitions, as per Transfermarkt.

Despite failing to earn a regular spot in the side thus far, he retained a spot in Belgium’s national squad with the World Cup in Qatar looming, and produced a couplet of formidable defensive performances despite the catastrophic group stage exit. 

Indeed, with Belgium only winning one of the three matches in the group phase – a fortunate 1-0 victory over Canada – the golden generation of a side veritably oozing with talent dwindled to a halt.

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Regardless, the Villain can hold his head high and return to club football brimming with optimism; he might not have staked his spot under Steven Gerrard, but with Unai Emery taking the reins in late October, his glistening displays will have put him in good stead to earn further shots at the end of the month, when the World Cup concludes. 

In Qatar, Dendoncker earned an average rating of 7.35 over the two matches he played, with the one match he was confined to the bench interestingly the match that the Red Devils succumbed to defeat, against Morocco.

The 31-cap international incredibly boasted a pass success rate of 98%, whilst also chipping in with 3.0 tackles and 2.0 clearances per match. He also won 67% of his aerial duels and only lost possession three times. 

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Such a remarkable tournament is something that will not go unnoticed by Emery, who delights in crafting teams with a structured defensive approach and smooth, organised forward flow.

And the Spaniard manager will already be aware of his quality, having provided Dendoncker a start in his first match in charge of the Claret and Blue, a monumental 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Villa Park.

Dendoncker, once dubbed a “machine” by journalist Joe Edwards, was unable to prevent his nation from crashing out of the World Cup at the first hurdle, but his defensive contribution prevented further embarrassment, with his excellent form now perhaps a turning point in his Aston Villa career.  

He will indeed need to bring his form back to England, but with the managerial change and the knowledge he was one Belgium’s brightest sparks in Qatar, the foundation has been paved for greener pastures once more.