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Michael Cox: How intelligent Veretout is offering promise for Sherwood-less Villa

There’s been little for Aston Villa supporters to get excited about recently, and the 2-0 weekend defeat to Arsenal offered relatively little comfort. Their performance wasn’t bad after half-time, but realistically Villa simply need results – they’re already eight points away from survival.

There were, however, a couple of bright attacking performances. Scott Sinclair, who has been in and out of the side this season, dribbled forward dangerously towards the right of the pitch, providing Villa with some much-needed pace and directness in possession.

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In a deeper position, meanwhile, was Villa’s best performer. Jordan Veretout struggled to adjust to the demands of the Premier League during the opening weeks of the season, but he’s been handed a key role by Remi Garde. Villa’s new coach was presumably unfamiliar with much of Villa’s squad upon his arrival, but knew Veretout well from his starring performances for Nantes in Ligue 1.

French fancy

Veretout first made his name during France’s U20 World Cup-winning side of 2013, where he played alongside Paul Pogba and Geoffrey Kondogbia

With Villa’s centre-backs suffering from injuries, their holding midfielders unconvincing and Garde unsure of whether to use Jordan Ayew or Rudy Gestede up front, their side is currently based around Veretout.

A prodigiously talented midfielder who came through the ranks at his local team Nantes, Veretout first made his name during France’s U20 World Cup-winning side of 2013, where he played alongside Juve’s Paul Pogba and Geoffrey Kondogbia, now of Inter Milan. Whereas those two impressed with their all-round game, mixing power with great technical quality, Veretout was all about the latter. He’s under 5ft 10in and quite slight, but nevertheless showed great guile in possession, and intelligently varied his position to keep passing moves flowing.

That performance was particularly impressive considering Veretout, until that point, had never played at a level above Ligue 2, helping Nantes to promotion in 2012/13. Nevertheless, scouts from across Europe were already keeping an eye upon him.

Veretout started the first two games of the season, a win at Bournemouth and a narrow home defeat to Manchester United, but then only started one more league match under Sherwood.

“It was difficult under Tim because I was happy with my performances on the pitch and in training and I was happy with the way I was conducting myself,” Veretout says. “But I didn’t have a lot of dialogue with Tim. We barely spoke and I could never get a proper reason as to why I wasn’t playing.”

Since Garde took charge at the start of November, however, Veretout has played in every minute, contributing assists in both Villa’s previous games, against Watford and Southampton.

Ace against Arsenal

It was his performance against Arsenal at the weekend, however, which really showed his quality. Misplacing just three of the 50 passes he attempted, the Frenchman was thoughtful and positive with his distribution, usually staying in an inside-right position and helping Villa build attacks down that flank. The advanced positioning of Alan Hutton after half-time was primarily because Veretout was conducting play so expertly, and begging for an overlap to force pressure down that side.

Veretout also impressed with his set-piece deliveries. Boasting a flat, drilled kicking style that seems to cause opponents problems, there was a spell in the second half where Villa had four consecutive right-wing corners because Arsenal simply couldn’t clear their lines properly. With Gestede formidable in the air, and the likes of Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards also capable of moving forward to provide headed goals, dead-ball situations are likely to be a key part of Aston Villa’s approach this season.

Veretout, though, must be wondering how things might have been different. In the summer, he had a choice between joining Aston Villa or Leicester – and chose the former, at a considerable loss to Nantes, because Leicester were actually offering more money. A gentleman’s agreement between Veretout and Nantes chairman Waldemar Kita meant the player was allowed to choose. Nantes lost out – and perhaps so did Veretout.

Rather than playing for the team which started the weekend top, Veretout is now with the Premier League’s bottom club. More than most, therefore, he’ll have particular motivation to keep battling, and ensure he gets to enjoy a second season in England’s top flight.

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