Despite being forced to settle for a point away at Goodison last weekend, surprise package Aston Villa remain firmly in the mix near the top of the table with over half of the Premier League season having played, with the Unai Emery revolution continuing in the Midlands.
Previously maligned amid a tough spell at Arsenal, the Spaniard has made a remarkable return to English football over the past year or so, with Villa not only threatening to secure a Champions League berth, but also still with an outside chance of landing the title.
As the recent goalless draw with Everton showcased, however, the Villans are far from the finished article, with Emery likely to be plotting to land quality reinforcements this month in order to maintain his side’s impressive momentum.
Aston Villa’s midfield search
One name that has been circulating in recent times is Celtic sensation, Matt O’Riley, with Sky Sports naming Villa among those to have kept a close eye on the Denmark international, amid significant interest from Serie A side, Inter Milan.
The London-born playmaker only made the move to Glasgow on a £1.5m deal two years ago from MK Dons, although the suggestion is that the Old Firm side could demand a fee above the £25m that they received from the sale of Jota to Saudi Arabian outfit, Al-Ittihad last summer.
While that would represent a vast profit for those at Parkhead, managing to snap up the 23-year-old for anywhere close to that fee would represent a real bargain for Emery and co.
Matt O’Riley’s statistics at Celtic
It has been a perfect move, in truth, for both club and player over the last 24 months, with O’Riley helping the Hoops to a plethora of domestic honours, while also boosting his own status in the process – even earning a first senior cap for Denmark late last year.
O’Riley’s UCL group stage by numbers – 2023/24
6 games (6 starts)
3 ‘big chances’ created
2.5 key passes per game
3.5 tackles & interceptions per game
5.5 balls recovered per game
80% pass accuracy rate
7.18 avg. match rating
Stats via Sofascore
Once of Fulham’s academy, the midfield magician made the adaptation from life in England’s EFL to the Scottish Premiership with relative ease, having now racked up 44 goals and assists in 100 games in all competitions for the club.
It is this season, in particular, that the £14k-per-week gem has particularly shone amid Brendan Rodgers’ arrival in the dugout, bagging ten goals and ten assists across all fronts, including providing 17 goal involvements in just 21 league games.
Operating typically in an advanced midfield berth, O’Riley has even been described as a “wee bit like Frank Lampard” for his ability to arrive late into the box, as per pundit David Healy, with the ex-England international a real goalscoring machine during his days at Chelsea, in which he scored 211 goals from a midfield berth.
One man whom O’Riley will also be looking to emulate is a certain, Stiliyan Petrov, with the Bulgarian ace memorably trading Celtic for Villa back in 2006, after spending seven years north of the border in a glittering spell.
Despite seeing his career cruelly brought to a close in 2013 after being diagnosed with Leukaemia, the 44-year-old cemented himself as a firm fan favourite at Villa Park following his arrival from Scotland, memorably winning the club’s Players’ Player of the Year award and Supporters’ Player of the Year award in 2008/09.
As his ex-teammate Gareth Barry stated in 2014, “Stan’s strength was his composure on the ball, he never seemed to panic, always seemed to find the right pass”, with that seemingly a trait shared by the elegant and silky O’Riley, who has earned praise from former Celtic boss, Gordan Strachan:
“Some of his passes have been phenomenal. He has the ability that all the top players have of remaining composed on the ball – he doesn’t play unlucky passes.”
With Villa having reaped the rewards of prising Petrov from the Bhoys almost 18 years ago, the club could well repeat that transfer masterclass with the signing of another Celtic Park midfield sensation.