A major outbreak of COVID-19 will force Aston Villa to leave their first team at home and turn to the academy for Friday’s FA Cup third round clash with Liverpool.
It’s a scary prospect, but it’s something that should have both fans and neutrals excited as Villa’s academy setup is one of the most eye-catching in the country. There are plenty of young starlets who have been tipped for extraordinary futures, and some of them could be in action on Friday.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the names who could feature.
A 17-year-old right-back, Kaine Kesler made it on to the bench for Villa‘s first team after lockdown last season, which speaks volumes of the excitement around him.
He’s a rapid, attack-minded full-back who normally relies on his physicality to give him the edge, but Kesler also brings real technical ability and is confident enough in his abilities to take on opponents in risky areas.
His passing range is also something to keep an eye out for. Kesler is an impressive crosser who is not afraid to pull out a long-range pass when it is needed.
If there’s one player worth getting excited about, it’s teenage midfielder Carney Chukwuemeka, who has attracted interest from almost every top side in England and was previously described by Villa CEO Christian Purslow as the best player at his age group in the country (via Birmingham Mail).
The 17-year-old has attracted comparisons to Manchester United‘s Paul Pogba because of how unrivalled his physicality is in youth football, but he also brings the technical grace that can be found in Pogba’s game as well.
How he’ll match up against senior players at this early stage of his career remains to be seen, but anyone who has watched Chukwuemeka in action will tell you that he’s the one to watch out for.
Perhaps the most well-known member of Villa’s academy setup, striker Louie Barry made headlines in the summer of 2019 when he swapped West Bromwich Albion for Barcelona. Six months later, Villa brought him back to the Midlands for a little under £1m.
He’s the Under-23’s top scorer this season, bagging six goals in nine games, including four in his last three outings heading into Friday’s game.
Like Chukwuemeka, Barry has also earned a reputation as one of England’s finest in youth football, and he had no shortage of offers when he opted to walk away from West Brom.
Namesake of the Juventus midfielder, this Aaron Ramsey is more of an attack-minded talent because of his real eye for both goals and assists.
He’s built in the mould of 19-year-old brother Jacob, who has made his breakthrough to the senior side this season, and the pair have both been training together with Dean Smith’s first team for a good few months now.
Ramsey is a regular for England Under-17’s as well and has even captained the team on a number of occasions since his debut in September 2019.
One of the older players in the squad, 20-year-old centre-back Mungo Bridge has been tipped for a breakthrough into the senior side in the near future, but has been left in the academy to perfect his craft.
Once billed as ‘the kid with the dreads’, Bridge’s hair is just as eye-catching as his outstanding passing range. He’s one of the most technically gifted centre-backs in English youth football, but he often has to rely on that because of his slight frame.
Bridge does love a crunching tackle and he’s not afraid to butt heads with opponents twice his size, so it will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to senior football.
For all the hysteria surrounding a lot of the Villa academy, many would say 18-year-old winger Jaden Philogene-Bidace is the team’s real danger man.
A right-footed danger from the left, Philogene-Bidace is everything you typically expect from a young winger. He’s lightning fast and loves using his skills to embarrass opponents, and he’s been a real goal threat this season as well.
Villa know Philogene-Bidace has the potential to grow into something special, but the problem is that many other sides have recognised that as well. Arsenal and Manchester City were circling last season, while RB Leipzig are the latest side to be linked with the winger.
The nephew of former Barcelona and Chelsea defender Winston, Lamare Bogarde is predominantly a defensive midfielder, but his dominant defensive ability means he is comfortable dropping deeper when needed.
He was wanted by countless European giants when he left Feyenoord during the summer, but Villa managed to win him over with their exciting project, and there’s genuine believe that the 17-year-old might soon find his way into Smith’s first team.
He’s the biggest poster boy for Villa’s recent academy overhaul as club officials worked tirelessly to fight their way to the front of the queue for his signature, ahead of teams who should have been far more appealing.