Having scored seven goals in his last 12 appearances for Aston Villa, which included a sequence where he netted in five consecutive matches, there’s no doubting what scintillating form Ollie Watkins is in.
Leading the line with aplomb and authority, the all-round striker has been a major force to be reckoned with. Clearly relishing life since the demanding, meticulous Unai Emery took over from Steven Gerrard in October, the 27-year-old’s reaping the rewards of his tweaked role the Spaniard has given him.
“I sometimes want to come out of the box, but he literally says ‘Don’t go there’,” Watkins told the Times. “He says it as bluntly as that — ‘Don’t go, stay there’. It makes me laugh, but it works.”
Another integral component towards his uptick has been the fact he’s been working with specialist finishing coach Scott Chickelday, which certainly appears to be paying off handsomely.
Upon analysing some of his recent goals, it’s obvious to see how astutely he’s used his movement to occupy excellent areas and get the jump on opponents, plus followed the instructions to get into the box.
By doing the latter, the instinctive, two-footed and now clinical hitman has frequently been ideally placed to nod home headers, react quickest to rebounds and just generally be brilliantly situated to serve as a quality target inside the area.
“The modern-day striker has to be well balanced,” insisted Chickelday to Sky Sports. “Long gone are the days when a striker can afford to be strong only on one foot. If you are only going to shoot on your strongest foot at Premier League level, you will be found out and shown onto your weaker foot all the time. You are going to struggle.
“You have got to really have that balance now where you can be really clinical on both sides. Harry Kane is the master at it. It is just about being balanced and being unpredictable. Ollie has proved that. He is pitching in and scoring some fantastic goals with his left.”
His devastating runs in behind have also been well catered to, as his superbly timed and directed bursts, in combination with he and his teammates being all on the same page under Emery, has amplified his threat.
So quick to recognise when space can be exploited between defenders, on their blindside and when defenders are preoccupied, Watkins’ awareness has been very important as well, for he’s shrewdly gained an edge courtesy of his aptitude at the above both in methodical build-up and in transition phases.
Super fast and nigh on impossible to catch once in full flight with separation from markers, defenders have endured a torrid time containing the talented striker of late.
Within Emery’s defined framework, Watkins has also chosen his moments wisely when to drop deep between the lines to link play or drag opponents out to create room for colleagues to attack.
Watkins’ prowess on the dribble has also shone brightly, for his dynamism and skills have seen him gain territory for his team, generate room for him to shoot, outfox opponents 1v1 and draw multi-markers to compound issues for his adversaries. Able to beat foes with pace, shimmies, changes in pace and direction and with his admirable strength, there’s been much to like about his output with the ball at his feet.
On top of this, his nifty passing has been notable, with his keen eye for a pass and execution helping him conjure many chances on his way to supplying five assists.
Meanwhile, on the defensive end, the way he’s chimed in with a plethora of vital interventions, helps lead Villa’s organised pressing and neatly adheres to the responsibilities Emery gives him has elevated his worth. “We are trying with Ollie, to help him, to support him, to improve, to take confidence. We practice a lot, offensively and defensively, and of course we have to take a balance. Some players, maybe they are taking it better than others, and one is Ollie Watkins,” Emery stated.
“Every day he is working very, very well and trying to improve, practicing a lot. He has ambition, and he is a good example for everybody.”
By the numbers this season, it’s admirable how well he fares when compared with Manchester United speedster Marcus Rashford, in a range of metrics, with him notably holding the ascendancy in terms of headed goals per 90, shots on target percentage, successful dribbling percentage, through passes p90, aerial duels p90, successful defensive actions p90, interceptions p90 and defensive duels won percentage.
Brimming with confidence and playing with a real swagger, there’s no doubting the man who keenly studies Kylian Mbappe and Mohamed Salah is in a sensational purple patch currently.
The challenge now will be keeping up his incredible level, which he’s intent on in his quest to not only propel Villa as high as possible in the standings, but also to prove that he’s deserving of a recall to Gareth Southgate’s England squad.
Having just been left out of Southgate’s latest squad, Watkins, who’s trending in a distinctly upward trajectory, still striving to improve all the time and relishing being the main man for the Villans, will now be even more motivated to prove himself – which is a scary proposition indeed for any upcoming opponents.