Premier League transfers: Here’s why Aston Villa are signing Nicolo Zaniolo

Aston Villa are set to announce a new signing with Nicolo Zaniolo heading for an initial loan move. The Italian will join after a short spell in Turkey with Galatasaray. Here’s why Aston Villa are signing Nicolo Zaniolo.

Now 24, Zaniolo was at one point viewed as Italian football’s great new hope. Roberto Mancini was clearly a huge admirer, handing Zaniolo his first international call-up in September 2018 before he’d even made his full Serie A debut. He would underline that huge potential with some promising displays for Roma during the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons but injury problems have since badly hampered his development.

He suffered an ACL injury in January 2020 and while he would return in time to feature before the end of the pandemic delayed 2020/21 campaign, a fresh ACL injury in September 2020 ensured Zaniolo would miss all of the next season.

Jose Mourinho was the new Roma boss by the time Zaniolo returned to fitness and while there was the highlight of a UEFA Europa Conference League Final winning goal in 2022, Zaniolo has struggled to hit the heights on a consistent basis since those injuries and made something of a surprise permanent move to Galatasaray in February of this year.

Fresh firepower as Emery targets success on all fronts

Aston Villa are in Europe for the first time in 13 years and they have a manager who is a genuine specialist in cup competitions. The Birmingham club start as favourites to go all the way and win the UEFA Europa Conference League which could potentially involve as many as 17 fixtures.

Zaniolo’s success in European competitions will have been noted and he’s a player who has shown at various times in his career that he has an eye for a goal. That was even true during a brief spell in Turkey where the 24 year old scored 5 Süper Lig goals despite only starting 2 matches in the competition.

He also played and scored in all of the major European competitions during his time at Roma and at his best, Zaniolo is a player who should contribute both goals and assists for Unai Emery’s team this term.

Cover for the injured Buendia

This is a move that has largely come about after Aston Villa lost Emi Buendia to what the club described as a “significant knee ligament injury” last week. With former Sevilla Sporting Director Monchi now in charge of recruitment, one more addition in an attacking area was always likely, but Villa may now try to sign two players who can influence things in the final third with Zaniolo set to be the first of those.

Much like Buendia, Zaniolo is capable of operating as a second striker by playing off Ollie Watkins. However he’s a versatile player who could also drop into midfield or a wide role and that versatility would also have been a major part of the appeal for Emery who is known for his willingness to tinker with his team and use players in different positions depending on the opponent and match situation.

There are some notable differences between Zaniolo and Buendia though which mean this isn’t a like-for-like replacement as such. The Italian favours cutting onto his left foot whereas Buendia is right footed. Zaniolo is also much taller at six foot three and that bit of extra physicality and height will provide a different option in the final third for Emery’s team.

Can Villa unlock Zaniolo’s huge potential?

This deal is set to include a purchase option for Aston Villa who will view this as an attractive “try before you buy” situation. There is clearly a risk with Zaniolo given his career has not quite taken off in the way many hoped, largely you suspect because of those back-to-back serious injuries just as he was emerging in Serie A.

However Villa are also getting a player that is still young enough to develop and adapt his game to the point where he gets closer to reaching that early potential. If Emery can find a way to improve Zaniolo in the way he has managed to quickly improve other members of his current squad, he could have a seriously good player on his hands.