By Noel Whelan

21st Dec, 2020 | 7:00pm

'That Is Massive' - Exclusive: Whelan in awe of what he's seen from Aston Villa player

Aston Villa attacker Anwar El Ghazi has “stepped up” in the absence of Ross Barkley, according to Noel Whelan.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider correspondent Dylan Childs, the former Leeds and Coventry striker said there is now healthy competition at Villa Park between a “great squad of players”.

El Ghazi, 25, grabbed a brace last night as Dean Smith’s side climbed to ninth in the table with a 3-0 victory over Sam Allardyce’s West Brom.

The win at The Hawthorns was just the second league game El Ghazi has started this season, with summer signings Ross Barkley and Bertrand Traore preferred by Dean Smith.

Whelan hailed the strength in depth at Villa Park as Barkley prepares to return from injury against Crystal Palace this week.

“El Ghazi has absolutely stepped up in the absence of Ross Barkley,” he told Football Insider.

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“He wants to be in that starting eleven every week and right now he is taking his chance.

“Dean Smith is getting a reaction. There is healthy competition now between the players. They are all training hard, working hard and fighting for a place in that team. Everyone is pushing themselves and that is massive.

“Villa have a great squad of players so let’s not beat around the bush here. There were close to dropping out the Premier League last year but let’s be honest, they massively underachieved.

“They have got a good blend this year and kept Grealish which is huge.” 

In other news, it can be REVEALED that Preston, Huddersfield Town & QPR are set to battle it out to sign Aston Villa player in January.