Aston Villa completed the signing of Lucas Digne (£5.0m) last week, in a deal worth a reported £25m plus add-ons.
The attack-minded left-back endured a successful spell at former club Everton, where he produced four Premier League goals and 22 assists across the previous three seasons, but was facing an uncertain future due to a fallout with Rafael Benitez.
Now at Villa Park, Digne’s move could prove fruitful for both attacking and defensive returns in Fantasy Premier League (FPL), which we’ll explore below, in this, our latest Moving Target report.
28-year-old Digne signed for Everton from Barcelona ahead of the 2018/19 campaign and has since been one of the best players in his position in the Premier League.
As one of his team’s main creators, his tally of 22 FPL assists across the last three seasons puts him behind only Trent Alexander-Arnold (£8.4m) and Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) amongst all defenders, whilst his 0.14 expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes under Carlo Ancelotti in 2020/21 was the sixth-highest rate.
However, he has failed to produce a single attacking return this term. Benitez’s defensive demands will have to take much of the blame, with Digne’s attacking output suffering as a result.
“The manager asked me to be more of a defender this season, to stay back a bit more and keep a better balance for the team. Then, sometimes, I can drive forwards, but only when it is right for the team. My first job is to defend, I am a left-back. If what you are being asked to do is for the good of the team, that is it, the end of the discussion. You do the job the manager wants.” – Digne on his role under Benitez
Digne became the second player through the door for Villa in this January transfer window, following the loan signing of Philippe Coutinho (£7.0m) from Barcelona.
And whilst the Brazilian stole the headlines against Manchester United in Double Gameweek 22, with a goalscoring appearance off the bench, Digne also caught the eye on his Villa debut.
DIGNE’S FIRST-MATCH – SCOUT REPORT
Immediately installed at left-back, Digne served up a zero-pointer against Manchester United on Saturday evening, thanks to his concession of two goals and a yellow card.
However, he was very advanced up the Villa left flank, registering 25 final-third touches (the second-most of Villa players), two shots in the box and two chances created, and was also involved at set-piece situations.
It’s also worth noting Digne’s touch heatmap, which further emphasises his prominent role at the business end of the pitch:
Above: Lucas Digne’s touch heatmap v Manchester United in Double Gameweek 22
All-in-all, it was a bright start for Villa’s new full-back, as he crossed well into United’s box and almost got on the scoresheet himself, as he fired a decent effort at David de Gea (£5.2m) in the second half.
He cramped up towards the end but provided a good attacking outlet throughout, which bodes well for his prospects in the coming weeks.
LUCAS DIGNE V MANCHESTER UNITED – DOUBLE GAMEWEEK 22:
|Metric||Total||Rank v Aston Villa team-mates|
|Shots in the box||2||2nd=|
|Passes received in final-third||15||3rd|
Though often portrayed as a 4-3-3 formation, Gerrard’s Villa have really been playing a 4-3-2-1 since his arrival, as the wide forwards are more no. 10s than traditional wingers.
As a result, the full-backs are tasked with offering the width in the final third, which should suit Digne, who specialises in overlapping runs and crosses.
His relationship with those ahead of him down his flank will be key, then, and you can certainly see him thriving with Coutinho, who will look to drift infield and create space, plus Jacob Ramsey (£4.6m), who is more than capable of covering the Frenchman’s attacking forays.
So, Digne carries plenty of threat going forward, but what about his clean sheet potential?
From Gameweek 12 onwards – Gerrard’s first match in charge – Villa have kept two clean sheets across their nine Premier League fixtures, conceding 12 goals, though three of them were penalties. That isn’t anything to write home about, but the strength of opposition should of course be factored in, with the Villans having faced Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United and Leicester City during that time.
The next run of games, however, gives Villa a real opportunity to build some momentum, as they sit top of our Season Ticker for ease of fixture right through until Gameweek 28. There is also potential for a Double Gameweek to be added into the mix, perhaps as soon as Gameweek 23, with postponed ties against Leeds United (a) and Burnley (h) still to be rearranged.
At this stage, we should highlight the threat posed by Matt Targett (£4.7m), Villa’s ‘other’ left-back, who will offer competition for a starting spot. However, it’s clear Digne is a significant upgrade on the former Southampton man, who has struggled at times this season with several below-par performances.
Meanwhile, we also shouldn’t completely write off right-back Matty Cash (£5.1m) as an FPL option. Set pieces probably swing it in Digne’s favour but it wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he kept pace during this next run of games, as the Frenchman settles into his new surroundings. Cash’s expected goal involvement (xGI) delta of -1.46 certainly suggests there is more to come from him, and confirms that he has been unfortunate not to produce more attacking returns in 2021/22 so far.
Normally we preach a ‘wait and see’ policy with new signings to see how they bed in, but with Villa’s next run of fixtures of such an attractive nature, an early move for Digne is appealing. The former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain full-back will provide an attacking quality that Villa have been lacking this season, and if they are handed a Double Gameweek 23, it’s realistic to think he’ll be subject to huge Fantasy interest in the coming days.
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