Aston Villa’s first Premier League match back since their first-team squad was forced to isolate due to a COVID outbreak saw Ross Barkley (£5.9m) return to their midfield.
Barkley took the place of Anwar El Ghazi (£5.8m), with Jack Grealish (£7.7m) moving out into a wide position.
After a strong showing against Manchester City in Gameweek 19, the former Chelsea player looks to have slotted back into the side with ease.
But with so many Fantasy Premier League (FPL) managers owning Villa assets like Grealish and Ollie Watkins (£6.1m), how will this affect their points potential?
As this article uses extensive data from the Fantasy Football Scout Premium Members Area, only those with a valid subscription can access it in full.
Barkley started his Aston Villa career off with a bang, scoring two goals in his first two starts until getting injured early in their Gameweek 9 fixture against Brighton.
During that time, Barkley had the joint most attempts on goal in out of Premier League midfielders and created the most chances.
The former England player’s introduction not only benefitted himself, but also attacking players around him, with Grealish just behind him in both tables.
As Villa’s lone frontman, Watkins also benefitted from having Barkley in the side, having the best supply of big chances of any striker in the Premier League.
While the stat sample above features Villa’s freak 7-2 victory over Liverpool, it is clear from the numbers that they were thriving with Barkley in the side.
As well as the Liverpool win, Villa scored an impressive away win at Leicester and a 3-0 win on the road at Arsenal, while also losing 3-0 to Leeds and 4-3 to Southampton.
As you can see from Villa’s goals scored rating (xG) compared to their actual goals scored, they massively overperformed during Barkley’s time in the side.
This can be due to a number of reasons such as clinical finishing and luck but whatever the reason, with Barkley in the team they were scoring more goals.
With or Without You
Stats taken from their last four games, in which Ross Barkley didn’t play, show the tables have completely turned.
Their xG is now considerably higher than their actual goals scored, which is doubled by Manchester City.
Comparing the amount of shots from the two samples shows Villa had a lot less attempts on goal without Barkley in the team.
With Barkley in the team
And not only did they take less shots, but they created a lot less chances as well.
While Villa’s numbers without Barkley in the team are still impressive, it is clear with him in the side they are much more of an attacking force.
Jack in the Box
Owned by 37.7% of FPL players, Grealish has had a fantastic season, delivering a number of memorable hauls including 24 points against Liverpool and 15 against Southampton.
But the Villa talisman has only delivered one return in his last four games, with the above-mentioned hauls both coming when Barkley was in the team.
With Barkley taking up the central role in Villa’s 4-2-3-1 behind the striker, this sees Grealish drift out to the left side of their attack.
Cutting in from the left appears to help Grealish get higher up the pitch, as show by the amount of shots in the box he took when Barkley was previously in the team.
In their last four games without Barkley, Grealish’s shots in the box dropped down to three, nowhere near the top.
Barkley playing centrally also means Grealish no longer has to drop as deep to get the ball, with Barkley’s dribbling also taking defenders away from marking him.
As shown in the two heatmaps below, playing on the left sees Grealish spend most of his time in the box and out on the left.
But without Barkley in the team, Grealish is often found on the edge of the box or floating out to the right in search of space.
With Barkley now back in the side, Grealish will hope to be in the box as much as he was earlier in the season, bringing in more double digit hauls.
On the face of things, the player who appeared to miss the presence of Barkley most was Watkins.
The £28million summer signing from Brentford scored a hat-trick on Barkley’s full debut against Liverpool, and followed it up with a goal against Southampton and a brace at Arsenal.
But since Barkley’s absence, Watkins has not scored a single goal in the Premier League.
This is extremely perplexing as in Villa’s last four games, Watkins has received the joint most big chances out of all forwards and had the most shots.
A look at his heatmap to see where he is receiving the ball tells a similar story.
An extremely hard worker, Watkins is seen all over the opposition half of the pitch with Barkley in the team, favouring the left-hand side.
But without Barkley in the team, Watkins seems to be getting into the box and into better areas to score more.
It maybe that Watkins has struggled shouldering more of the goalscoring responsibility with Grealish not getting forward as much.
There have been a number of cases of bad luck, including seeing a goal against West Ham ruled out for offside due to his sleeve.
Whatever the cause, Dean Smith will be hoping the return of Barkley can help the Villa frontman rediscover his scoring touch.
Back to his Best?
It is too early to judge if Barkley can have the same impact he did at the start of the season, but signs look promising.
In the City game, which Villa were unfortunate to lose, he occupied key central areas allowing Grealish to stay on the left.
He’s also lost none of his confidence when it comes to shooting, letting fly three times in the game.
Villa are a very good side without Barkley, but with him they were an even better one.
Grealish will be the clear benefactor from Barkley’s return and with a bit more luck, Ollie Watkins may even rediscover his scoring touch.
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