Ritchie De Laet became somewhat of a ‘forgotten man’ after an injury in his first season at Aston Villa – but looks to be pushing for a starting place this season.
After some good performances in friendlies, can Ritchie De Laet become a cog in the Villa engine this season?
Ritchie De Laet was bought from Leicester in 2016 on a three-year deal, the season previously having won a won a Premier League medal as well as being promoted with Middlesbrough while there on loan.
At first, it looked like De Laet was going to become one of Roberto Di Matteo’s key lieutenants, making 3 appearances at the start of 2016-17, before missing the rest of the campaign with a knee injury. The full back then made a handful of appearances the following season prior to going out on loan to Royal Antwerp in January, helping them finish 8th in the Belgian first division.
Make or Break Season for Ritchie De Laet
So what can Ritchie De Laet offer Villa in 2018-19? The 29-year-old has had a very good pre season so far, executing two well weighed crosses allowing Kodjia to get a brace against AFC Telford, then set up Conor Hourihane’s opener against Walsall.
However, its rare a player plays himself into the team on pre-season form alone. Gary Gardner has impressed for the last six years in preparation games but has yet to establish himself in the first team.
Villa playing a 3-5-2 system would be a blessing for Ritchie De Laet. Against Walsall, the former Man United trainee lined up as a wing-back and suited the role, making use of his considerable pace and aerial presence in defence along in addition to his attacking qualities.
On the other hand, we can’t read too much into two friendly games against poor opposition. It’ll be interesting to see if Steve Bruce continues to deploy De Laet at wing back in upcoming friendlies against Burton and West Ham.
Either way, Ritchie De Laet will have to fight for his place on the right side of defence with Ahmed Elmohamady’s first choice in the role as well as James Bree standing in his way. It’s going to be a selection headache for Bruce and just another narrative woven into the story of Aston Villa’s 2018-19 season.