Aston Villa defeated Brighton 6-1 at B6 on Saturday afternoon, with Ollie Watkins scoring his second hat-trick of the season.
After striking his first triple against Hibernian in the Europa Conference League in August and earning a winner in the 1-0 victory against Chelsea last week, the 27-year-old has made 11 appearances in all competitions this season and scored in just three of them.
The ex-Brentford striker appears to have recaptured the goalscoring form that escaped him in the first five games of the Premier League season, assuaging fears that his productive spell last season was a one-off.
However, worries still remain over Watkins.
The Torquay-born hitman will enter the final year of his Aston Villa contract at the end of this season with his existing terms due to expire in June 2025.
The Athletic reported on 1 May that Aston Villa had opened talks over getting Watkins to agree a fresh deal at Villa Park but five months have passed and it remains to be seen whether or not the striker will commit himself.
Ex-Villa right-back Alan Hutton told Villa News on 22 September that a new contract for Watkins should be sorted out and that the delay is hard to explain.
“I think he’s another one they would like to tie down to a long-term deal,” Hutton said after seeing Ezri Konsa penning his new contract last month. John McGinn and Tyrone Mings have also signed lengthy deals this year.
“I don’t know the reasons behind [the delay]. Is it length, is it wages? I genuinely don’t know. Maybe he’s holding out for something else.
“As I said before, for that to be available for you, you have to be playing at a high level so that’s only good for Aston Villa.
“Hopefully they can sort out him signing a new deal.”
It’s easy to see why Villa would want to get Watkins tied down to a fresh deal from just a quick glance at his goalscoring stats both this season and last.
Last term, the B6 striker scored 15 times and supplied six assists in 37 league appearances. Only one of those goals came while Steven Gerrard was in charge and Watkins went on that run of scoring 11 times in 12 consecutive games between January and April, blanking just twice.
Since a brace against Newcastle on 15 April, Watkins has failed to score in 11 of 14 Premier League appearances. However, his form does look to be coming back after finding the back of the net in each of his last two outings versus Chelsea and Brighton.
Stats by FBRef this season show that Watkins has had 22 shots at goal. Only Erling Haaland (30), Marcus Rashford (28) and Eberechi Eze (27) have had more.
Watkins is, however, slightly overperforming in front of goal when it comes to expected goals as his xG stat is 3.4, stacking up nicely to his four scored. He’s misfiring though when it comes to the quality of his shots as only 40.9 per cent of them have hit the target, which ranks him 65th in the Premier League. Only Wolves’ Hwang-hee Chan [40%] has a worse shot-on-target percentage out of the Premier League’s top-11 goalscorers. Hwang, however, has scored on all four occasions he’s hit the target.
However, with Watkins’ form improving, Aston Villa must begin contract negotiations as soon as possible.
On Sunday morning (1 October), Fabrizio Romano wrote in his Daily Briefing that Villa “continues to push to extend his contract as soon as possible.”
It’s unclear why it’s taken five months since initial conversations with Watkins began, but Aston Villa can’t afford to wait any longer.
Vultures have already begun to circle, knowing that a cheap deal for a prolific goalscorer at the conclusion of the season is possible. Earlier this year, Manchester United [The Athletic] and Bayern Munich [Mirror] were reportedly connected with the former Brentford striker.
Villa Park is preparing for something extraordinary.
Unai Emery is a talented manager who has been given the opportunity to shape the squad how he wants it with a large transfer budget, and the arrival of Monchi behind the scenes will help him to continue doing so at a high level.
Villa are back in Europe, and while their Conference League group-stage campaign did not start well, this Aston Villa is a far cry from the one led by Tim Sherwood, Remi Garde, Roberto Di Matteo, and Steve Bruce.
In other Aston Villa news, Dan Bardell has advised Emery that this “high-profile” player should not be allowed to play at Villa Park this season.