Aston Villa need Spurs man’s hammer shot in central midfield

Aston Villa have Tim Sherwood to thank for their continued presence in the Premier League, after the former Tottenham boss arrived to replace Paul Lambert in February and improved the team’s on-field performance beyond recognition.

Things were even better for Villa in the FA Cup, although their first trip to Wembley for the competition’s final in 15 years ended with humiliation at the hands of Arsenal. All things considered, though, it has to be said that the Midlands outfit can be pretty pleased with the progress the club made in the immediate aftermath of Sherwood’s arrival.

If the former Blackburn skipper’s dealings in the transfer market are anything to go by, then those improvements look set to continue.

The gilet-wearing boss has already heaved some of the deadwood out of Villa Park, with Darren Bent, Andreas Weimann, Matt Lowton and Yacouba Sylla all leaving, while securing permanent deals for Scott Sinclair and Micah Richards to join the club.

Considering how famously frugal Villa are in transfer windows, such activity already is impressive. As a canny manager, however, Sherwood will know that those two deals cannot be the end of the Villans’ work.

Whether it be through purchases, free transfers, loans or promotion from the academy, Sherwood will constantly be looking to add quality to a first team currently rated as 10/3 chances to be relegated this season by Ladbrokes.

Perhaps one area of under-performance that may have escaped his attention is Villa’s woeful number of goals from outside the area.

The claret and blue club finished bottom of all 20 Premier League clubs for goals scored outside the penalty box last season, managing just two in total.

Considering Man City led the division with 15 and the league average was 8.35, a figure that actually dropped some distance from the 11.35 mark that was held in 2013/14, it’s clear that Villa need drastic improvement in this department in order to stand a better chance of picking up points.

While the scoring, long-range pile driver late on is a romantic’s goal, there can be no denying that having a midfielder or two capable of a deadly shot from range can be an advantage when in possession.

Defences will automatically look to close that player down quickly when he moves into range, perhaps leaving gaps for other players to run into, thus creating better goal-scoring chances.

In Villa’s case, however, there is no such danger, which means oppositions can sit off midfield players as much as they like, knowing full well that there’s little chance of conceding from that area. That then clogs up other scoring avenues closer to goal, as defenders focus all their efforts there.

So, as Sherwood sits in his office plotting his next transfer target, it could be worthwhile looking at this pair of sharp shooters to add a new dimension to his side.

Spurs’ Alex Pritchard spent last season on loan at Brentford in the Championship and played well enough for a conversation to start in some circles about whether he could be given a chance in the Lilywhites’ first team.

It’s easy to see why that chat began, as the England U21 international scored 12 goals and laid on seven assists in his 45 starts for the Bees.

PritchardOf his 12 strikes, five of them came from outside the box, a number which easily betters Aston Villa’s entire long-range production for the season.

Although those five goals were only good enough to secure Pritchard seventh place on the Championship’s list of leading long distance scorers, his is a signature that appears eminently gettable for Villa.

The likelihood that the 22-year-old crashes the Spurs first team is minimal and Sherwood’s previous role as Spurs’ academy supremo stands him a superb chance of landing the midfielder, even if it is only on loan.

Alongside Pritchard, Sherwood could follow the burgeoning Premier League recruitment trend and head to Holland.

MarkoThere, Vitesse’s Marko Vejinovic ranked second behind new Manchester United star Memphis Depay for outsite-the-box goals, scoring six of his 12 from range. values the Dutch-Serbian central midfielder at £2.86m, which is quite affordable for Villa, although the Vitas’ qualification for the Europa League may prove a stumbling block in attracting the 25-year-old.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Matt Wiggins

No idyllic sound comes close to leather on willow for Matt, whose previous experience includes stints with Spin Magazine and Surrey County Cricket Club. It's not just cricket that interests him though, with football, golf, tennis and any American sport not played on ice all high on his list of favourites.