Danish striker Nicklas Helenius arrived in Birmingham this summer optimistic that he would help improve Aston Villa. Entrusted with the No. 9 shirt, it seemed like Helenius would have a large part to play in the upcoming season.
Helenius arrived on the heels of an impressive season in Denmark where he notched 16 goals and seven assists as the Superliga's player of the year. The tall and technically skilled forward was expected to provide cover for star striker Christian Benteke, or even potentially replace the Belgian in the long-term.
Unfortunately for Helenius, Paul Lambert has not seemed to trust the Dane. The striker has barely featured this season and has made just three league appearances in total, all of which have come as a substitute.
News that fellow striker Libor Kozak has suffered a season-ending leg break may just be the opportunity that Helenius needs to prove himself to the manager and begin his Aston Villa career in earnest.
Kozak, a fellow summer signing, is a more experienced and older player than Helenius and was routinely preferred by Lambert. The injuries and lack of form experienced by Benteke had given Kozak ample opportunity to impress in a Villa shirt and the Czech striker performed well enough to continue to be selected over Helenius.
With Kozak now ruled out for the remainder of the season, Helenius must deliver for a Villa team that is unable to score. Benteke's well-documented goal drought has been one of the key reasons that the Villans have lost four of their last five matches.
The consistently poor play of many of Villa's other attacking players, most notably Andreas Weimann and Aleksandar Tonev, has compounded this issue. Having scored just three goals in their last six league matches, Villa are in desperate need of both a goalscorer and a creative influence.
Lambert has acknowledged the latter need, confirming to SkySports his desire to sign a No. 10 during the transfer window. Players such as Steven Defour and Wes Hoolahan have emerged as early targets to fill this position.
Until such a transfer materializes, however, Lambert must improve the team with the players currently at his disposal and Helenius can potentially address some of Villa's offensive flaws.
Helenius' statistics from last season, as well as the brief action he has seen in a Villa shirt, show that he is a surprisingly nimble player. In contrast to Kozak, a classic poacher with a strong frame, Helenius is a more technical player than his height might indicate. He is patient with the ball at his feet and is as eager to pick out a team-mate with a pass as he is to take a shot.
Glimpses of this potential could be seen in Saturday's disappointing defeat in the FA Cup to Sheffield United. Villa's lone goal came from Helenius, who scored after coming on as a substitute. His first appearance in months, Helenius provided a composed finish for his goal and was involved in several other encouraging spells where the striker acted as the key passer.
The Dane's willingness to create as much as score could be an important foil to Benteke and he could help the Belgian restore his confidence and regain his form. Benteke's aerial dominance and hold-up play makes him the focal point of Villa's entire offence and Helenius could be a useful outlet to play off of Benteke.
Playing slightly behind Benteke, rather than alongside him, Helenius would provide diversity in attack and could be the first option for a Benteke knock-down or lay-off. Furthermore, the height Helenius possesses will maintain the aerial threat Kozak provided and make Villa crosses especially dangerous as defences must intently mark both Helenius and Benteke.
With the winter transfer window only open for the remainder of the month, it is important that Lambert immediately evaluates Helenius' potential impact on the team by giving the striker game time in Villa's upcoming fixtures in order to understand what contributions might be expected from him.
Lambert's hesitancy to play Helenius thus far this season has led many fans to question how much the Dane has to offer, some going so far as to ask whether he is Premier League quality. But Kozak's injury and the poor form of his forwards has left the manager with little choice but to give Helenius a chance to prove himself, a chance the Dane must make the most of.