West Ham set to make surprise swoop for Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins

West Ham’s need for reinforcements up front has been well-documented and as the summer transfer window beckons, they appear to have identified their first target.

Jacob Steinberg at the Guardian understands the Hammers have shortlisted Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins as a ‘primary target’.

The report goes on to suggest that Villa boss Steven Gerrard could be tempted into parting ways with the former Brentford striker who would likely demand a fee in the region of £50m.

With Michail Antonio unable to sustain the spikes in form he showed at the top of the season and alternate options to the Jamaican striker non-existent, manager David Moyes has been forced to turn to the likes of Jarrod Bowen and Saïd Benrahma to lead the line.

If you were to identify an equivalent to Antonio, in terms of his athleticism and ability to make a variety of runs both holding up play and running in behind, Watkins would rank high on that list.

Since arriving for a fee of £28m in 2020 ahead of Villa’s return to the Premier League, Watkins has provided a steady return notching 23 goals and 6 assists in 67 Premier League appearances.

Handed an England call-up in March last year, the 26-year-old has seen his role change upon the arrival of Danny Ings ahead of the 21/22 campaign.

Formerly a lone striker, similar to that of Antonio, Watkins is now deployed within a strike partnership and tasked with drifting wide into the channels to offer an outlet in attack.

While he has retained his starting spot under Gerrard after Dean Smith’s departure, it is thought Aston Villa are set for a rebuild come the summer.

Whether Ollie Watkins will remain at the forefront of those plans remains to be seen, but his manager’s reported impartiality to him leaving – especially to a team considered a rival – would suggest not.

Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah and Chelsea’s Southampton loanee Armando Broja have been listed alongside Ollie Watkins as potential options for the East-London side to explore.