Just six months on from signing for Middlesbrough for £1m, Morgan Rogers is heading back to the Premier League for 16 times that amount. We take a look a why Aston Villa have decided to splash out on him.

Morgan Rogers’ move to Aston Villa is a curious one.

The 21-year-old only moved to Middlesbrough from Manchester City in the summer, and cost just £1 million back then. Now, six months on, he has secured his return to the Premier League with Aston Villa for potentially 16 times that fee. Reports on Tuesday suggested that his transfer to Villa would cost an initial £8m and eventually up to £16m with all add-ons included.

At a time when there is also talk that Villa have considered the possibility of selling a prized asset – someone like Jacob Ramsey – to guarantee compliance with Premier League profitability and sustainability rules come the end of the season, it’s a surprise to see them spending a far-from-insignificant sum on a player who has only 28 Championship starts to his name. In his half-season with Middlesbrough, Rogers hadn’t even convinced many of his own supporters of his worth. There have been a fair few raised eyebrows among their fans that Rogers is stepping up to a club at the top end of the Premier League for so much money.

So, what exactly have Aston Villa seen in Rogers that convinced them to sign him?

The first thing to say is that he is still very young and incredibly raw. He has only played 5,106 league minutes as a professional, with just 54% of those coming in the second tier (2,773). So, signing him is a gamble, but Villa presumably see the potential upside as worth paying for right now. Whether he can play a part for the first team straight away is another matter entirely.

Rogers is an attacking midfielder who likes to get into positions between the lines to link play, preferring to start in a number 10 position and roam from there. In Michael Carrick’s 4-2-3-1 at Boro, there was the perfect spot for him in behind the striker, which is where he played most of the time for them this season.

morgan rogers positions played Middlesbrough

He can also play out wide or up front, but his inclination is always to move into central positions because he likes to receive the ball to feet. That is naturally a useful trait in certain regards, not least because by moving away from his starting position he gives his direct opponent a decision to make as to whether to follow him. But at the same time, his team can lose out from him moving away from the position he is supposed to be occupying. For example, when he plays up front, he will rarely pin the centre-backs deep in their own territory, and when he is out wide, he doesn’t stretch the opposition’s defence by hugging the touchline and pulling a full-back away from the centre-backs.

morgan rogers touch zones Middlesbrough 2023-24

He is, however, very adept at receiving in tight spaces so he is well-suited to getting on the ball between the lines. He is very comfortable receiving on the half-turn, has a fantastic first touch and scans constantly, so when the ball comes his way he often manages to move play on with one touch, whether that is to a teammate he is facing or by turning towards goal and progressing play. He ranks 12th in the Championship of players with 1,000+ minutes played for successful layoffs per 90 (1.7), and second for through balls per 90 (0.8), behind only Alex Pritchard (0.9).

morgan rogers through balls 2023-24

Rogers prefers to create rather than go for goal himself, something that is reflected in his record of six assists and just two goals in the Championship this season. He ranks ninth in the Championship for assists despite starting only half (14 of 28) of Boro’s games, but jumps up to second when looking at assists per 90 (0.42) among players with at least 1,000 minutes to their name.

He is within the Championship’s top 10 players for the season for chances created per 90 (2.6) among the same group of players, while only Leicester’s on-loan Sporting CP winger Abdul Fatawu (1.2) has created more big chances per 90 than him (0.8). Rogers also ranks seventh in the division for expected assists (xA) per 90, with 0.29, and jumps up to third when just looking at open-play expected assists per 90, with the vast majority of his contributions coming in open play (0.28 xA) rather than at dead balls situations.

He likes to move play forward by carrying the ball, too, averaging 10.5 carries – moving with the ball at least five metres – per 90 this season, with 5.4 of those deemed ‘progressive’ – moving with the ball at least five metres towards the opposition’s goal, as well as ranking in the top 20 for both dribbles attempted (4.7) and completed (1.7) per 90. He is yet to marry his ball-carrying with end product, though; he has followed up only seven of his 152 carries all season by creating a chance for a teammate.

morgan rogers chance creating carries

Whenever he gets the opportunity, Rogers will look to play a killer pass, but that eagerness to affect the game is both a strength and a weakness. He wants to play the final pass or make the biggest possible impact whenever he gets on the ball. It speaks to a confidence in a player who impressed so much while playing against Manchester City for West Brom in the FA Youth Cup semi-final in 2019 that City chose to sign him. You want your young players to be confident and to try difficult things that have the potential to be telling, but Rogers gives the ball away slightly too frequently.

He has lost possession on average 18.3 times per 90 minutes played, which puts him in the top 20 in the Championship this season, and means that 34% of his touches lead to him losing the ball.

It is natural that attackers complete fewer passes than other players, but his pass success rate of 72.2% is remarkably low given he plays in a possession-dominant team under Carrick. Many of the best players in the world give the ball away often when trying ambitious things – for example, Bruno Fernandes has lost possession more times than any other player in the Premier League this season (430) – but they also produce key contributions more than anyone else. He may have to curb some of those creative instincts when making the step up to Premier League level.

He did catch the eye against Chelsea in the EFL Cup semi-final last week, though, and Villa fans will be hoping his well-taken goal, struck from the edge of the box – which took his record in the competition this season to five goals and two assists in five starts and one substitute appearance – is an indication that he has what it takes to make it at the highest level.

There is unquestionably plenty of talent there and bags of potential, and Villa have clearly deemed Rogers’ possible improvement worth taking a reasonably expensive risk on.

Don’t expect him to have a huge impact on first-team proceedings too quickly, but Rogers could be one to keep an eye on in the coming years if Villa manage his development well.

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