Very few would have predicted such a solid season for Dean Smith’s Aston Villa last time out.
Following the narrowest of survivals at the end of the 2019/20 season, Villa looked remarkably solid and assured, while playing a lovely brand of football, throughout the 2020/21 campaign – achieving a much-improved mid-table finish.
And now, Smith’s men will look good to build upon that progress and really cement themselves in the top half of the Premier League. However, they may have to do so without the inspirational Jack Grealish, for whom Manchester City have bid £100m – a proposed fee that has resulted in both clubs ‘expecting’ the English international to make the move.
But, one man alone cannot win football matches – it’s a team game, after all. And with £100m adding to an already healthy fund, Villa could find themselves with a lot of opportunities to ensure their progression up the table.
So, what could the club do with the incoming fortune from the potential sale of their captain?
A bombardment of new signings is all well and good, but the most important thing for Aston Villa to do is to keep the core of a squad that has provided such stability since an almost disastrous 2019/20 season.
Kortney Hause’s contract is entering its final year, Douglas Luiz and Matt Targett have deals with two years left and Tyrone Mings, Bertrand Traore and Emi Martinez have three years remaining on theirs.
It may not seem the most urgent piece of business but these are some players that have caught the eye over the past 12 months and as their deals start to diminish, suitors will come knocking.
The likes of Mings, Targett, Luiz and particularly Martinez were integral to the club’s upturn in fortunes last term, and securing their long-term futures at Villa Park gives the club an even stronger foundation from which to build on.
If Villa are going to reach loftier heights than mid-table and compete for European places in the future, they will need to add their squad depth issues.
Smith had several areas of the side that were quite threadbare last season and, while the club have already brought in Emi Buendia from Norwich for over £30m and Ashley Young from Inter on a free transfer, there will need to be other shrewd signings to bulk the ranks.
Currently, they are doing just that. Villa have acted upon their interest in James Ward-Prowse and, although a £25m bid has been rejected by Southampton, their intention to deepen the squad with reliable and quality players should be deeply encouraging to supporters.
It also shows that the club are ready to spend to strengthen this summer and, with a potential influx of cash, a really solid and competitive squad could shape up for the upcoming campaign.
Provided they address the right areas…
It must be noted that Aston Villa’s stabilised defence was a large part of their success last term. Throughout the 2020/21 campaign, only Arsenal and Tottenham conceded fewer Premier League goals outside of the top four.
And while Martinez’s introduction was a huge factor in that, there is no doubt that Mings and Ezri Konsa form a strong central defensive pairing together – one that Smith can be more than content with.
However, as back-up, all the Villa boss can call upon at the moment is Hause. While not a bad player in his own right, it is abundantly clear that more depth and quality is needed should the club rise up the rankings.
Competition for places could be crucial in doing so, too. Kurt Zouma has been linked with a transfer away from Chelsea this summer and, as a club aiming to build and inject quality into its ranks, Villa should have their eyes on a potential move – particularly given his top flight experience in England.
Zouma’s combination of power, defensive quality and aerial ability would suit Smith’s side, as well as introduce internal competition – a factor that Villa currently miss.
Another area in need so some additions is up top.
Ollie Watkins enjoyed a brilliant maiden campaign in the Premier League last time out, scoring 14 goals, although was never pushed for his place in the starting XI.
As secondary options, Smith had the young Keinan Davis and Wesley, who, following a five-goal debut campaign after a £22m move in 2019, was kept out of the majority of last term with a ruptured ACL.
While Watkins proved his ability last season, there is a clear need for an additional striker. While the likes of Danny Ings or Alexandre Lacazette could be up for grabs this window, one name to have been linked is Tammy Abraham, who previously spent the 2018/19 campaign on loan at the club, scoring 26 goals as Villa earned promotion back to the top tier.
He’s a proven entity, a fan favourite and, at just 23, is a shrewd buy when considering the long-term. Furthermore, with Chelsea willing to lower their £40m asking price, there’s no reason not to pursue Abraham to address a problem area of the squad.
They may have to compete with other admirers but, having already shown their ambition by snaring Emi Buendia away from Arsenal earlier in the window, Villa are clearly here to get what they want.
Bringing in a winger does not mean replacing Grealish.
The 25-year old is simply irreplaceable for Villa, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still find quality to bring into the squad.
There have been a multitude of wingers rumoured to be on the move this summer, including the likes of Dwight McNeil, Adama Traore and Domenico Berardi, for example.
One player closely linked to Aston Villa has been Bayer Leverkusen’s very exciting 23-year-old Leon Bailey, for whom the Midlands club are reportedly lining up a £30m bid – despite competition from elsewhere.
As we know, though, competition doesn’t faze Villa. And, while Grealish’s departure will represent a gargantuan hole in the squad and club, a fresh injection of magic, spark and drive will be crucial to take the club into the new season.