Aston Villa boss Dean Smith admits he will need to think about his goalkeeping situation in January and where Tom Heaton fits into his plans.
The England stopper could return to the Villa matchday squad against his former club Burnley on Thursday for the first time since suffering a serious knee injury in a game with the Clarets nearly a year ago.
In Heaton’s absence, Villa signed Emi Martinez from Arsenal, and the Argentinian has excelled, leaving Smith with something of a dilemma.
Villa also have Jed Steer and Lovre Kalinic on their books, and Smith said: “As I said to Tom, once we get to January we’ll have more of an idea of where we’re at, both with Tom and our goalkeeping situation.
“We’ve got five games before then so the important thing is for Tom to make sure he’s doing all he can to get into the squad. Once we get to January we certainly have to look at our goalkeeping situation because we’ve got four goalkeepers at the place and that’s probably one too many to be carrying.”
Heaton has had several outings for the under-23s, including against Leeds at the weekend, and Smith is happy with where the 34-year-old is at physically and mentally.
It is something of a deja vu situation for Heaton, who saw Nick Pope seize his chance at Burnley after another spell out in 2017, which eventually paved the way for his departure for Villa.
With the European Championships next summer, Heaton will know he cannot afford to be sitting on the bench if he wants to secure a place in the England squad.
Smith said: “I know how important it is for Tom to be playing football and he’s expressed his desire to come and challenge Emi Martinez, and I said he’s got to challenge Jed Steer as well. He’s fully aware of that.
“He went and played against Leeds on Sunday for the 23s and he’s starting to put himself in contention now. Physically he’s in a really good place, mentally he’s in a really good place and he wants to compete now and start pushing the goalkeepers in front of him – in front of him because he hasn’t been there to compete. Now he’s there to compete.”
Martinez pulled off one terrific save and a number of other stops in last weekend’s victory over Wolves to bolster his reputation.
Smith said: “If you look at his performances from the end of last season to the start of this one, they have been very good. He won the FA Cup and the Community Shield with Arsenal and he’s come to Aston Villa and kept five clean sheets already, so he is certainly on the right path.
“It’s not so much about the great saves, because all goalkeepers can make great saves. It’s making the great saves not look great, that’s a good way to describe a good goalkeeper. They make the game look easy.
“If you look at Emi at the moment, his positioning is really good, his hands are really good. He doesn’t spill many, he’s got nice soft hands. You’ve got to have a desire as a goalkeeper to keep the ball out of the back of the net at all costs and we certainly seem to have that from Emi.”
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