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Talking Tactics

Digne can be decisive on Everton return

19 Jan 2022

Adrian Clarke says Villa left-back can be a major attacking influence against his old club on Saturday

Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 23.

Lucas Digne (AVL)

Steven Gerrard is a head coach who demands attacking adventure from his full-backs, so Digne's arrival at Villa Park should not be considered a surprise.

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Aston Villa head coach Gerrard prefers a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-3-3 and in both set-ups his team hold a narrow shape, remaining strong down the middle.

This means the emphasis is on the full-backs to supply end product from the wide areas, and in this regard, Digne fits the bill as somebody proven at Premier League level.

His three-and-a-half-year spell at Everton was largely successful from an individual standpoint, with many Toffees fans disappointed to see the left-back sold to Villa earlier this month.

On his swift return to Goodison Park the hosts will respect Digne's ability to influence the contest.

Top Premier League crossers 2020/21
Player Most open-play crosses Most successful open-play crosses
Alexander-Arnold 199 37
Robertson 171 36
Digne 155 32

On his Villa debut in a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, Digne did not shy away from playing in an attack-minded manner.

He had two shots and three touches inside the opposition penalty area, and he delivered six crosses into the box. Two of those balls created goalscoring opportunities.

Villa v Man Utd highlights

Last season at Everton, Digne sent over a stream of crosses, ranking third in the top-flight behind Liverpool pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson.

He has been brought in to supply that level of ammunition for the likes of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings.

Currently just five teams produce fewer successful crosses than Villa, so it is an area that requires improvement.

Regular assists

In 1,260 minutes of action Digne is unusually yet to provide a goal or assist this season.

Across the last two Premier League campaigns he supplied 14 assists - seven in each - and prior to that in 2018/19 Digne had eight direct goal involvements (four goals, four assists).

Digne's Premier League assists
 Type Total
Headers 11
Shots 7
Open play 14
Corners 3
Wide free-kick 1

The bulk of those key passes have been from left-wing crosses, with 64.7 per cent of them converted with headed goals (11/17).  

While he is also a terrific exponent from dead-ball situations more than three-quarters of the France international’s assists stem from open play.

With Phillipe Coutinho or Watkins most likely to be play on front of Digne of the left of Villa’s attack, cutting inside as a matter of course, the January signing should enjoy plenty of freedom down that wing.

Tough homecoming

Everton's best performers this season have been their wingers, with Demarai Gray, Andros Townsend and youngster Anthony Gordon all shining at various intervals.

This means Digne will face a stern examination on his return to Everton, who will be managed by caretaker Duncan Ferguson this weekend.

Gordon, a tricky 20-year-old, scored twice in his last home appearance from a right-wing berth.

Fit-again Townsend is another option and he has been Everton’s chief creator, making 30 chances in 16 appearances during 2021/22.

Digne will be motivated to push on and make an impact inside the final third against his former club, but up against quality wide men he cannot afford to neglect his defensive duties.

The Frenchman could be a key figure for Villa at both ends of the pitch and his performance may have a significant bearing on the outcome of this encounter.

Also in this series

Part 1: Idah presence giving Norwich renewed hope
Part 3: New shape can maintain Chelsea dominance over Spurs

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