Aston Villa striker Wesley Moraes is reportedly eying a return from his anterior cruciate ligament injury in the New Year but faces a mammoth struggle to prove himself all over again.
Supporters have not seen Wesley step foot on the pitch since New Year’s Day when carted off on a stretcher against Burnley, having appeared to twist his ankle in the follow-through of a robust challenge from Ben Mee.
Wesley had just begun to establish himself at Villa Park following a £22million transfer that summer, with the former Club Brugge hitman netting his fifth goal of the Premier League campaign at Turf Moor to open the scoring.
Aston Villa went on to win 2-1 against Burnley but were soon dealt the news that Wesley’s season was over alongside goalkeeper Tom Heaton, who similarly sustained a serious knee injury at Turf Moor.
But while 34-year-old shot-stopper Heaton returned to feature for the Villa Park natives’ Under 23s last month, Wesley continues his wait and is targeting his first taste of action in March – more than a year on from being carried off the field – according to BirminghamLive.
Barring any changes to Smith’s squad in the January window, Wesley’s return will be a huge boost to the Villans boss who has relied on summer signing Ollie Watkins to carry the burden in attack this season.
Watkins moved to the Birmingham-based outfit from Brentford for a club-record £33m in the off-season and has lit up the top-flight since with six goals in nine games, including a hat-trick over Liverpool and a brace at Arsenal in Man of the Match displays.
Smith is yet to hand starts to any other player at centre-forward this term, but will expect Wesley to challenge the 24-year-old once fit and prove himself to be worth the £35,000-per-week contract Villa are not currently benefiting from.
Though Wesley has a mountain to climb if he is to dethrone Watkins as all of his credit is spent, and he will return in March as if he is a new signing who must prove himself all over again.
Smith is already benefiting more from Watkins than he could with Wesley and in fewer games, too, as the Villans’ star of the season so far is averaging more shots (2.1) than the Brazilian achieved in 2019/20 (1.3), contributing more key passes (1.3 to 0.5), winning more aerial duels (4.1 to 3.3), taking more touches (37.9 to 29.5), winning more ground duels (3.4 to 2.0) and playing a higher number of accurate passes (15.1 to 12.5) per game in the Premier League, per SofaScore.
It will be up to Wesley to take the challenge to Watkins, but it will be Smith who decides if the Brazilian has a future at Villa Park beyond the season.