What can Aston Villa fans expect from right-back Ritchie De Laet this season?
Ritchie De Laet joined Aston Villa in August 2016, but after making just his third appearance at his new club, he suffered a serious knee injury which ruled him out for the rest of the 2016/17 season. De Laet has recently returned to pre-season training but unluckily, broke a bone in his wrist shortly into his return. Despite this, the 28-year old is expected to make a full recovery in time for the new 2017/18 EFL Championship campaign. So what can Aston Villa fans expect from the right-back this upcoming season?
Style of play
De Laet is an attack-minded full back, who likes to dribble and get forward on numerous occasions. With his pacey and direct running at opposing left-backs, De Laet can be tricky to handle offensively.
De Laet boasts the style of play that is perfectly suited to the right wing-back role. Although not used in this capacity to date, he could work well as a right wing-back in a 3-5-2 formation. He is more familiar, however, being part of a back four.
He likes to use the byline to bomb on forward and deliver crosses into the danger area. He is even capable of having a go at goal himself sometimes. The Belgian is a keen tackler of the ball, as well as being a good interceptor in the effort to regain possession.
The former Manchester United man likes to move the team up the field as soon as the opportunity arises. This is why he suited Leicester in his four years at the club, due to their counter-attacking style of play.
At Leicester, De Laet would often look to release frontman Jamie Vardy by putting balls into the channels for him to chase. This could similarly work well with forward Scott Hogan, who is likely to be a regular feature along the forward line for Aston Villa next season.
Standing at 6 ft 1 in, De Laet can additionally fill in at centre-back if needed, and when on loan at Middlesbrough in the 2015/16 season, De Laet often filled in at left-back too.
Whilst getting forward is one of De Laet's biggest assets, this does mean he can be caught out of position if possession is lost high up the field. Due to his commitment going forward, teams can try to exploit this gap in the defence.
De Laet can be overrun if a large proportion of the play is coming down his right hand side. He particularly struggles against tricky, skillful wingers. He usually starts matches well, but over the course of the game can have lapses of concentration.
Due to his keenness to get forward and get possession back for his team, De Laet can sometimes push too high up on wide men running the risk of being turned, resulting in a foot race with his attacker.
Previous winning pedigree
In his time at Leicester City, De Laet was for the most part the Foxes' resident right-back over the period of four successful years at the club. Favoured by the then manager Nigel Pearson, De Laet was a key member of Leicester's 2013/14 EFL Championship title winning campaign.
He featured 35 times over the course of 2013/14, scoring 2 goals. According to Squawka's stats, De Laet also created 21 opportunities that season, and made only 3 defensive errors. The 2013/14 season showed both De Laet's importance and reliability in a team that was playing consistently well, week in, week out.
Thanks to the convincing title win of 2013/14, Leicester City were promoted to the Premier League for the first time in ten years. De Laet was once again a regular feature under Nigel Pearson in the 2014/15 campaign.
Towards the latter stages of the season however, Leicester seemed like they were going down, with Pearson and his team at a loss as to how they could change their fortunes around.
Something had to be done to save Leicester's season, and changes eventually came in the form of a new approach and formation; those two fundamental changes masterminded one of the greatest escapes from relegation the Premier League has witnessed.
Pearson opted for a 3-5-2 all guns blazing approach, with the club having no choice but to go for it to have any chance of survival. These changes meant De Laet didn't feature in this period, beforehand being part of a back four.
To the surprise of quite a few Leicester fans, Nigel Pearson was surprisingly sacked by the Leicester board in June 2015, despite keeping the club in the top flight against all odds in the previous campaign.
Claudio Ranieri was Nigel Pearson's successor, and for the first few months of the 2015/16 season, De Laet was chosen to be in Ranieri's starting eleven.
In September 2015, his goal against Aston Villa at 0-2 down started a crucial comeback with the Foxes going on to win the match 3-2. This game is often thought of as the turning point for what was to come.
However, as time went on, De Laet somewhat fell out of favour at the club as Danny Simpson became Ranieri's first choice right-back. Despite this, De Laet played enough games during the season to receive a Premier League winners medal, as part of Leicester's title-winning squad.
In February of the 2015/16 campaign, with Leicester on a winning run, and chances of getting back into the first team scarce, De Laet joined EFL Championship side Middlesbrough on loan.
This turned out to be a rewarding move for De Laet, as he helped Middlesbrough gain promotion to the Premier League, while also collecting a Premier League winners medal with Leicester.
De Laet is a proven success when it comes to the second tier of English football, as well as having a Premier League title to his name. He could potentially be a real asset for Steve Bruce's Aston VIlla next season.