Danny Drinkwater: What were Villa thinking?
Background photo: Miniluver04
If Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was ever concerned about Danny Drinkwater, he found a solution to his problem in short order. The former Leicester man, unwanted at Stamford Bridge, played his last three matches against City, each for a different club. The first was a 1-0 defeat at the Etihad in March 2018 while still in favour with the Blues. He didn't feature at all in the 2018/19 campaign. Thus the other two came this season, a 4-1 setback at Turf Moor in December while on loan with Burnley and this weekend's 6-1 drubbing at Villa Park. Note the progression in scorelines.
Not too long ago, Drinkwater was considered among the best midfielders in the Premier League. His exquisite technique, stamina and panache illuminated the King Power Stadium, contributed mightily to the Foxes 2015/16 title and attracted deep-pocket suitors from West London. But his much-publicized switch from Leicester to Chelsea destroyed his pedigree. After a horrendous start, will Aston Villa manager Dean Smith dare include him in his starting lineup again?
In September 2017, Chelsea paid big money to take Drinkwater off Leicester's hands. Marina Granovskaia must’ve told Roman Abromovic he was getting a bargain at £35 million. But Drinkwater arrived at Stamford Bridge nursing a thigh problem. The injury prevented him from making his Chelsea debut for nearly two months. When he was finally fit, Antonio Conte wasn't convinced. That first impression sealed Drinkwater’s fate at Stamford Bridge.
Conte never sanctioned the signing and the midfielder may have been collateral damage in the feud between the Italian and the Chelsea board over transfer policy. With a deep midfield headed by N'Golo Kante and Cesc Fabregas, it was easy to throw Drinkwater under the bus. Regardless, the player still managed 22 appearances and a goal in 2017/18 despite his contentious relationship with the boss.
The pain suffered under Conte was an understatement to what he endured from the next Italian who took over at the Bridge. Maurizio Sarri had no time at all for Drinkwater. He told him from the outset to find another club. Apparently not the best listener, Drinkwater chose to stay and fight a losing battle, his only sniff of action a 30-minute cameo in the preseason Community Shield when Sarri was likely putting him in the shop window.
Rust at Turf Moor
When Chelsea appointed Frank Lampard, a pre-existing transfer ban created an all hands on deck situation. Still, Lampard found no place for Drinkwater. The message finally received, Drinkwater emptied his locker and headed to Lancashire.
Burnley isn’t anywhere near Chelsea in terms of quality but they’re still a decent Premier League side. Sean Dyche demands both quality and fitness to make his squad. Not helped by an attack outside a nightclub, Drinkwater lacked both. The Manchester United academy product made only two appearances for the Clarets, the last Burnley's hiding from the Sky Blues before the home fans. When his loan spell ended earlier this month, Dyche was happy to be rid of him.
Hardly spoiled for choice, Drinkwater was lucky another Premier League club showed interest even if it was ill fortune to draw the Citizens again in his Villa Park debut. Dean Smith was desperate. Plagued with injuries, the Villa squad battles for Premier League survival. The biggest worry? Midfielder John McGinn is out 'til March.
Drinkwater's 79 minutes against City were the worst possible introduction to a new club, especially the first half. He took too long over the ball in his own box and was dispossessed, leading to City and Riyad Mahrez's second goal after letting the Algerian cut inside him for the first. Before the half ended, Kevin de Bruyne ran away from him twice in the buildup to City's third and fourth. It's fair to say Drinkwater was removed from the match 79 minutes too late.
The nightmare outing proves just how much work the midfielder must put in to get back to the player he once was. He’s not that guy anymore. Dean Smith and Villa should’ve known.