As Villa continue to progress with the building process required in crafting a Premier League squad, there are going to be players who face an uncertain future. There’s already been the cull of the out of contract Championship squad members + the Ross McCormack pay off.
For those who made it through that stage, there is now the prospect of life on the fringes of the squad during a busy recruitment process that could push them even further to the margins. Very much within that small block of players is Keinan Davis.
As the squad is overhauled, the aspect that has so far remained the most untouched is the attack. After the loss of loanee top scorer Tammy Abraham – returning to break his way into Frank Lampard’s new look Chelsea – a vacuum was left at the top end of the pitch for Villa. With 26 league goals last season, Abraham’s left some big boots to fill.
As of writing this, the position is still up for grabs, with the £22 million acquisition Wesley in the driving seat, the back-up striker position (considering Smith’s preference to play one central striker) is there to be competed for between Kodjia, Davis and Hogan. Of this group of three, Davis likely finds himself behind Kodjia. So how reliable an option is he likely to be in the supporting cast as we enter the Premier League?
With Scott Hogan looking increasingly forlorn in front of goal (despite his best efforts) and seemingly in the death throes of his search for form, Davis finds himself positioned well, behind Kodjia, as second deputy to the big Brazilian. But can he realistically pose a threat when called upon to be at this top level? That’s where I have my doubts.
His hold up play and strength has rarely been in doubt. He is certainly a physically imposing presence and more than a handful for any defender, but the higher up the league ladder you climb, strikers increasingly require more than brawn alone; greater nous and technical ability is needed to really excel, and it’s in the latter aspects where he has weaknesses.
Admittedly, at 21, he has age very much on his side and his game is showing increasing signs of improvement. Under Smith’s tutelage he is definitely developing his link up play and his movement on and off the ball has definitely improved since the very raw youth player arrived on the scene via Biggleswade Town back in 2015. He certainly seems to be one of the players who has most benefitted from our time in the Championship, which has allowed him the opportunity to develop around the first team, whereas – had we been a Premier League team – he perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise been afforded such chances.
There is of course criticism to be had, as there always will be, and the primary bone of contention is his goal scoring ability. For all the good work he can put in when working to link up the play, he definitely lacks the killer touch required to truly progress to the next level. Most of this issue comes down to his positional sense in and around the box and his lack of incisive, intelligent movement in these areas to make himself the space and opportunities to get on the scoresheet regularly. He never quite seems sure exactly when to commit to a run, or hold back, and all too often is neither here nor there when the opportunities arrive.
However, there is hope for him yet, he is getting stronger in the link up phases and Smith does like a striker who can drop deep for a give and go or can hold up the ball equally well and bring wingers and creative midfielders into the game. In that regard he is probably a more natural fit to Smith-ball than Kodjia who has a tendency to be fairly single-minded as well as lacking desire and application somewhat on occasion.
Kodjia however, is clearly a much more natural finisher, so it’s a dilemma. Kodjia is a better overall striker and goal getter in the competition to be Wesley’s supporting striker. It would therefore seem that – as solid and decent as Davis’s pre-season has been so far – that his immediate future most likely lies in a loan spell. Especially if talk of a further striker, such as Neal Maupay, being brought in proves to be true.
He’s far from a finished article, that much is clear, but he also doesn’t deserve to be as overlooked or maligned as he has been, at times, by sections of the fan base. Given that our pre-season has been thus far, predicated on goals coming from all over the pitch, with wingers and attacking midfielders increasingly being brought into the scoring, then a central striker with the skill set that Davis offers is actually more akin to what Smith is seemingly wanting to build going forwards.
As a final thought, if you watch the way Davis and Wesley play, you can certainly see that there are striking similarities, albeit Wesley is a much more complete package right now. But training side by side every day will only benefit Davis in his own development. Subsequently, Davis may even be better served shadowing Wesley for a period and continuing his development here rather than elsewhere.
Ultimately though, nothing aides development better than pure game time, and in that regard, I think that Davis’s immediate future probably lies in a spell out on loan, but if his game keeps on developing, then Davis certainly has attributes which Smith seems to like in his strikers, and may yet be capable of proving his doubters wrong.
By Jamie Yapp.