Aston Villa manager Dean Smith could sign the club’s new Stewart Downing in Burnley winger Dwight McNeil this summer.
The Telegraph had recently revealed that Villa still have the 21-year-old high up on their target list as they look to strengthen the squad ahead of the new Premier League season.
Football Insider then suggested that the Midlands club would turn their attentions towards the England under-21 international if they can’t get a deal done for Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe.
The Liverpool Echo have now claimed that while Everton have joined the race to land McNeil, but it’s Smith’s side who are currently in pole position to lure him away from Turf Moor this summer.
The £34m-rated McNeil has been one of the few standout players for Sean Dyche’s side in recent seasons, and the Burnley manager has been quick to praise his young prospect.
The 50-year-old said: “He’s a real talent. He’s a really good player, he’s improving, his calmness at the end – I’m saying get it in the corner – but he cuts in, and his calmness to cross it into a dangerous area, and then gets his reward. Before then, his calmness to dribble out of trouble – he’s a really good player, really good, and he can only mature.”
A left-winger who plays on the left (rather unusual nowadays), McNeil offers much of the same threat that Downing posed when he was in his prime at Villa Park.
Before his high-profile switch to Liverpool, the former England international enjoyed some good times at the club, including a 2010/11 season which saw him pick up both the Players’ Player and Fans’ Player of the Year awards.
He scored 11 goals and provided 14 assists in 79 games for Villa, and when you compare that 2010/11 campaign to what McNeil produced last season, there’s a lot to like.
As per WhoScored, Downing averaged 2.1 crosses and 0.7 dribbles per game compared to McNeil’s 1.4 crosses and 1.8 dribbles per match in the top flight – both have that ability to not only get to the byline and beat their man, but also deliver the kind of pinpoint cross off of which strikers can feed.
McNeil is very much a throwback with his style of play, and Smith could help unlock that “talent” which Dyche has hailed.
With Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta already insisting Smith Rowe will be going nowhere, Villa should turn their attentions firmly towards McNeil and forget about the Gunners starlet.