Aston Villa may only have four players at the World Cup in Qatar but new manager Unai Emery is sure to be keeping a close eye on them all.
On Tuesday night, Matty Cash starred for Poland in their 0-0 draw with Mexico and after Argentina’s shock defeat to Saudi Arabia, Group C has been blown wide open.
“He’s been a fantastic signing for Villa but the way he has improved and his mentality are a testament to him,” lauded BBC Sport pundit Rio Ferdinand, who also suggested that the Slough-born gem would earn the club hefty profit in the future.
But another display would have surely caught the Spaniard’s eye this week as the rarely-utilised Leander Dendoncker put in an outstanding defensive and all-round performance for Belgium as they narrowly edged past Canada in Group F.
Should Dendoncker be a regular starter for Villa?
The 27-year-old powerhouse joined Villa Park from Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers on deadline day in a reported £13m deal but has found regular game time hard to come by, despite his versatility and their centre-back troubles since Diego Carlos was struck by a long-term injury.
Indeed, Dendoncker has only been able to register three starts in the Premier League and was dropped to the bench for Villa’s final domestic game before the break, even though he looked the part in defensive midfield for Emery during his first game in charge – a 3-1 win over Manchester United.
And the £90k-per-week colossus was a towering monster at the back for Roberto Martinez’s Red Devils. Despite being the clear favourites for the encounter, Belgium were under the cosh for the majority of the game, with Les Rogues registering a whopping 21 shots to Belgium’s nine (via FBref).
Canada missed a penalty early in the first half and just couldn’t find a way past a resolute back three, in which the Villa man featured, before Michy Batshuayi netted the game’s only goal right before half-time.
A lot of the Red Devils’ play began with Dendoncker as he recorded the second-most touches of any player on the pitch (88) and enjoyed an impressive 96.1% passing accuracy, which was the best of any Belgium star. That also included three progressive passes – as many as Eden Hazard and more than Youri Tielemans – so he evidently had a big influence in getting the ball forward up the pitch.
Elsewhere, he managed a 100% tackle success rate against dribbles, had two interceptions and tackles, three blocks and also notched four clearances, as per FBref, proving to be an absolute rock against Canada’s barrage of counter-attacks.
Dendoncker, who has previously been dubbed a “machine” and “a real selfless player” by journalist Joe Edwards, clearly proved his immense worth to Emery and his coaching staff with an eye-catching display in Qatar.
If he keeps that up, then the Belgian titan ought to be in the starting lineup to face Liverpool on Boxing Day.
AND in other news, Emery must forget about “incredibly underrated” Villa target after World Cup stinker…