He arrived from Leeds United in 2009 a promising youngster with the world at his feet. Sadly for Fabian Delph, his Aston Villa career started not with a bang, but a whimper. The 19-year-old struggled with injury upon his arrival, playing just 292 minutes in his debut campaign under then manager Martin O’Neill, unable to live up to the £8m the club shelled out for his services.
Often charged with controlling the midfield having been used to a more attacking role in the past, Delph appeared overawed in England’s top tier when he did play and there was the real risk that he’d become another player of Jermaine Jenas' ilk - showing potential as a youngster, only to fail to live up to the expectation. A return to Leeds in 2012 was expected to reinvigorate the midfielder, only to see his season end prematurely as a result of an ankle injury.
Following the sacking of Alex McLeish, the youngster was handed a chance to prove himself under Paul Lambert upon his appointment last summer. Making 24 league appearances, 19 of which were starts, Delph grasped the opportunity with both hands and was one of the shining lights in the tail end of a campaign that was among the toughest for the club in recent years at times.
While Christian Benteke, it can be argued, single handedly dragged Villa from the cusp of relegation to Premier League safety, Delph began to exhibit why the Villans had spent so much on him to secure his services. His average WhoScored.com rating may’ve sat at 6.84, but with a pass success of 87.8% - the most of every Villa regular last season - and a dribble success of 85% - the most of every player to attempt 20 or more dribbles in the Premier League - his ability to find a teammate and drive the team forward in the midfield began to win over a number of fans that had dismissed him.
Averaging 2.3 tackles per game, his figure was bettered only by Chris Herd (3) and Matthew Lowton (2.8) in the Villa team last term, highlighting not only his ability to instigate attacks for his team, but also deny the opposition from playing their game. His 2.8 interceptions per game was also only lower than that of Lowton (3) as Delph started to show why the club had splurged so much on him in the first place.
After impressing, particularly in the second half of last season, the 23-year-old has continued his rich vein of form as Villa look to build on their 15th placed finish from 2012/13. His current WhoScored average rating sits at 7.66 and only Benteke (7.81) has scored higher than the midfielder for Villa this season. Much of this is down to the hard work in the middle of the park that often goes unnoticed.
No player, at the time of writing, has made more tackles than Delph this season (20) showcasing his talent in the midfield, regardless of Villa losing their last 3 league games. With a pass success of 81.8%, he’s evidently capable of not only breaking up play, but also keeping it ticking over, with Delph able to pick out a teammate on a consistent basis.
This notion is reinforced in that only Manchester United’s Michael Carrick (24) has made more interceptions than Delph (15), with his reading of the game becoming a real asset. It's a facet of his play that has seen him accrue a number of Premier League admirers, and unsurprisingly so, with supporters calling on England manager Roy Hodgson to hand the youngster an international call-up.
Teams have evidently pinpointed Delph as the heartbeat of the Villa midfield as a result of his ability to drive the team on, with a dribble success rate this season of 77.8% representing the highest of every player to have attempted at least 15 dribbles this term. This not only denotes his confidence on the ball, but also his ability to break forward with vigour to assist Villa’s fluidity on the counter attack.
In turn opponents have aimed to disrupt his impact, with only Sone Aluko (16) and Eden Hazard (13) being fouled more than the midfielder (12) this season. However, this then allows Villa to utilise Benteke’s heading ability from set pieces, with the burly Belgian having won the most aerial duels (44) this season. While the opposition may target Delph, the opportunity to allow Villa to pick out the striker could prove to be more detrimental than granting the midfielder the opportunity to bring possession forward, with 2 of Benteke’s 4 league goals this term being headers.
While he's clearly subject of a number of fouls he's not afraid to dish it out either, and one critique of his game would be his rashness in the tackle. While Delph has only committed 6 fouls this season - 6 fewer than Norwich City's Ricky van Wolfswinkel (12), with the Dutchman executing the most in the Premier League thus far - he has still picked up 2 yellow cards this term; no player has received more. Following up from the 11 bookings he accrued in all competitions last year, this facet of his game needs to be improved upon, and while showing he isn't afraid to partake in this side of football is a good thing, his timing and technique in the challenge lets him down at times.
Either way, Delph is evidently fulfilling the potential he showed as a youngster with Leeds. While it’s taken longer for him to adjust to his surroundings, with injuries and uncertainty over a regular first-team place disrupting his development as a player, with Lambert at the helm he’s been handed his chance to shine and is repaying the Scotsman's faith, and then some right now.
Do you think Fabian Delph is living up to his potential? Let us know in the comments below