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What Can Aston Villa Expect From Moussa Diaby?

Aston Villa have signed French winger Moussa Diaby in a club-record £43 million deal from Bayer Leverkusen.

What can they expect from the player and how could he fit into Unai Emery’s system?

Villa’s pursuit of Diaby is a long-standing one as they initially registered an interest in him in 2021 but he was seen as too expensive at the time.

One of the key reasons why Villa have swooped for Diaby this summer is his considerable experience of playing in Europe.

Diaby has registered 12 goals and 8 assists in the Europa League, and with Villa embarking on their first European campaign for 13 years when they play in the Europa Conference League this season, the Frenchman’s familiarity with continental football could be vital in a squad that is otherwise unused to playing in such matches.

Emery’s side usually lines up in a 4-2-2-2 system and tactically the team look to build up and play slowly in order to draw the opposition onto them and exploit the space that this leaves.

The wide men are charged with spinning in behind and making runs and Diaby was very adept at doing this during his time in Germany with the Frenchman ranking in the top eight percent of wingers in Europe’s top five leagues for take-ons that resulted in a goal. 

Directness is the Frenchman’s main asset as he ranked very highly across direct attacking data in 2022/23 with his carry and dribble volume coming in at 77 out of 99.

He also had high XG from ball progression and XG from shot creation last season with these scores coming in at 71 out of 99 and 73 out of 99.

Villa’s attacks last season tended to be focused down the left-hand side with Jacob Ramsey and Alex Moreno so Diaby’s arrival will make the Villans more balanced and add much more of a threat from the right-hand side.

Diaby played 30% of his matches for Leverkusen from the right-wing so he may well fulfil the same role in the Premier League for Villa. 

The Frenchman’s versatility is also a major plus point for Villa as he has been utilised across the front line during his spell at Leverkusen so he will give the team much greater dynamism in attack in 2023/24.

The 24-year-old will be expected to dovetail with centre-forward Ollie Watkins just as he did with Sardar Azmoun at Leverkusen and exploit the space that is left by Watkins’ constant occupying of centre-halves.

As with any attacking player, output in the final third is key and he certainly produced in that regard in Germany, registering 31 goals and 11 assists in 123 appearances for Leverkusen, and in 2022/23, he registered 25 goal contributions in 48 appearances.

Diaby’s XG was also impressive with him ranking in the top eight percent of wingers in Europe’s top 5 leagues for non-penalty XG with 0.35.

Unai Emery demands a lot from his players off the ball, so the defensive side of Diaby will need some work as he ranked 1 out of 99 for defensive intensity.

He was also in the bottom one percent of wingers in Europe’s top five leagues for tackles attempted with 0.43 and he was in the bottom three percent for tackles won with 0.24 so he will still need to be moulded by Unai Emery in order to fully fit into his system. 

These defensive numbers are perhaps why a non-elite club like Villa have been able to sign Diaby, but if his numbers from his time at Leverkusen can translate to England, Villa will be getting a player with a huge amount of upside and one that could get them a lot closer to where they want to be.