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Morgan Rogers' impact at Aston Villa: Strength, skill and the ideal fit for Unai Emery since signing in January

The signing of the January window? How Morgan Rogers hit the ground running at Aston Villa to propel their top-four push, with exclusive insight from Michael Appleton, the man who gave the 21-year-old attacking player his Football League debut…

Credit - Getty/PA
Image: Morgan Rogers has made a significant contribution at Aston Villa since his January arrival from Middlesbrough

Ollie Watkins was the star of Aston Villa's win over Bournemouth last time out, setting up the last two goals, but he could not have done it without Morgan Rogers. Villa could not have sustained this Champions League push without Rogers.

Since arriving from Middlesbrough in January for an initial fee of £8m, the 21-year-old signing has been a huge hit under Unai Emery, taking on greater responsibility than anticipated. He has become a driving force in this Villa team.

His solo goal for the equaliser against Bournemouth was typical, featuring that blend of power and finesse that makes him such an awkward opponent. The pass that put Watkins through for what turned out to be the winning goal showed vision too.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa's win against Bournemouth

Rogers' success is a reminder of the talent that lurks in the Championship although he is unusual. This is a physical imposing figure but one who ranks among the top 10 dribblers per 90 minutes in the Premier League this season. It is a rare combination.

"I think that is what makes him even more dangerous compared to others who are known for dribbling the ball," Michael Appleton tells Sky Sports. "It is one thing being nippy with a slight frame and going past people but when you are 6'2" and you can do that…"

Appleton, who gave Rogers his league debut at Lincoln City, adds: "He has grown into it a bit but he was always a decent stature. The good thing about Morgan is that some of these young players who have these physical attributes they don't know how to use them.

"Some of them are almost scared of their own shadow at times, aren't they? Morgan is the opposite. He actually likes the contact. He enjoys people being really tight to him and he can then use his physical frame to roll them on the inside or the outside."

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Lincoln City's Morgan Rogers (right) and Northampton Town's Michael Harriman battle for the ball during the Sky Bet League One match at LNER Stadium, Lincoln. Picture date: Saturday January 23, 2021.
Image: Rogers in League One action for Michael Appleton's Lincoln City

Appleton had been aware of Rogers when he was very young, having worked at West Brom's academy. He spoke to coaches Jimmy Shan and Mark Harrison, now Villa's academy manager, receiving positive feedback and taking him on loan from Manchester City.

Eager to test himself at first-team level, what stood out even as a teenager is that, after leaving West Brom for a season in City's development squad, Rogers was ready to play - both mentally and physically. "The kid was that confident," says Appleton.

"We were not the biggest team and I remember there were a couple of games where we were thinking about the opposition and who to pick up, and he just said, 'Put me on their biggest player. I will do the job.' He genuinely meant it. He had so much belief."

Lincoln reached Wembley that season, losing to Blackpool in the League One play-off final. With Brennan Johnson also in the team, Rogers found himself used in various positions. "Because I knew Morgan liked contact, I knew I could play him inside as a 10."

Lincoln City's Morgan Rogers appears dejected as Blackpool players and staff members celebrate behind after the final whistle during the Sky Bet League One playoff final match held at Wembley Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday May 30, 2021.
Image: Rogers dejected following defeat with Lincoln City at Wembley

They were reunited at Blackpool in January of last year only for Appleton to depart within days. Only a back problem had prevented the deal being completed in the summer. "I always joke with him that if we had done it in August, he would have kept me in a job."

Rogers learned from that experience at the wrong end of the Championship, eventually signing permanently for Michael Carrick's Middlesbrough. "Michael recognised that this was a player who could play at the top end of the Championship comfortably."

That he was still on loan at Blackpool less than a year ago is a reminder of how quickly Rogers' progress has been - and how far he has already come. It is the top end of the Premier League now. "That has not surprised me in the slightest," says Appleton.

Morgan Rogers' heatmap and passing sonar for Aston Villa this season
Image: Morgan Rogers' heatmap and passing sonar for Aston Villa so far this season

Rogers is still learning, a process aided by his mentality. Unai Emery says that he is "very demanding of himself" and the off-the-ball work is now much improved. This is a player who can press well, eating up the ground, and increasingly mature in his position play.

"That was an area where we wanted more from him at Lincoln," says Appleton. "Because he is a lad who gets it and wants to improve, he has done that." A curious detail is that he blocks a cross more regularly than any other non-defender in the Premier League.

It helps that Emery and his team had recognised that there was a place for him at Villa. This was no punt but a calculation that Rogers had the qualities to slip seamlessly into the side. What he is doing now is very similar to what he was doing when at Middlesbrough.

The player radar highlights that. Emery is clearly pleased. "He is a player," he told Sky Sports at the weekend. "He is intelligent. He understands football. When we analysed and we signed him, it was because we analysed his ability to adapt quickly to our structure."

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Unai Emery praised Rogers following Aston Villa's win over Bournemouth

The decision to drop down to the Championship has been vindicated. Rogers was not the highest-profile young departure from City in the summer, that was Cole Palmer. But it is not the Chelsea player who is now likely to be in the Champions League next season.

"When you leave a club that you have been at since a boy to go to an institution the size of Man City, sometimes you can get lost among the number of bodies they have in the building," Appleton explains. "You have to take a step back to go forward again."

Rogers is only looking ahead now. It is tempting to say that he will find himself in the Champions League but he is more than along for this ride. He has been a key factor in Villa maintaining their momentum this spring. Perhaps the best buy of the January window.

"The one thing young players get asked about all the time is their temperament. He has the talent to do it but young players find their temperament tested when they are trying to go to the next stage. He has that temperament. I see his career going higher and higher."

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