The affable Marvelous Nakamba is so often the unsung hero who’s set to feature more prominently for Aston Villa this season. With Douglas Luiz set for a break after his Olympic Games involvement, it’s Dean Smith who will will assess the possibility of Zimbabwean Nakamba stepping up in his absence.
This idea that Nakamba will see increased minutes in the near future has been reinforced through pre-season. The 27-year-old has started in both of the pre-season friendlies so far against Walsall and Stoke City which, again, suggests that the Villa coaching staff are keen to see how he has developed over the summer.
In a dull performance at the bet365 Stadium against Stoke on Saturday, Nakamba was one of the few positives to take from it as he looked increasingly confident on the ball as well as displaying his usual tenacity defensively.
It may only be pre-season, but it is promising to know that his confidence could snowball going into the season after games like this.
It is integral Nakamba does in fact carry this form into the beginning of the season knowing he could well be vital in midfield in the opening games against Watford, Newcastle United, Brentford and Chelsea.
Given Villa’s four-game winning start last season a positive start can set the tone for the entire campaign.
A proportion of the fanbase, though, are keen for Villa to invest in a new defensive midfielder with rumours circulating regarding Southampton’s Oriol Romeu and FC Metz’s Pape Matar Sarr.
It poses a question, then; should Villa invest in this position knowing there are questions regarding Nakamba’s ability on the ball? Or should he be trusted to start the season as Smith’s first option?
The graphic, pictured above, outlines why fans and even the coaching staff may be doubtful regarding Nakamba’s reliability in the Villa midfield.
There are no doubts regarding the Zimbabwe international’s defensive ability but, as the graphic shows, a lack of composure and ability on the ball could hinder Villa this season.
The statistics were taken from comparing him to his positional peers within the Premier League in the 2020/21 season and, amongst these players, he was in the top ten percent in; defensive pressures, successful pressures, blocks and stopping players dribbling past him – as well as ranking high in tackles and clearances.
Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips is regularly praised for his defensive work rate and non-stop running. He averages 23.6 pressures per game compared to Nakamba who averages 25. Nakamba’s work rate is uncommon and wouldn’t be out of place in Marco Bielsa’s side.
Running figures that compete with Leeds United are somewhat of an anomaly in Villa’s squad and should be valued highly.