A few days have now passed since the club announced the release of eight senior players including Glenn Whelan, Mile Jedinak and Alan Hutton and tonight having mutually agreed to tear up Ross McCormack’s contract, it’s fair to say that this is the trimmest Villa’s playing squad has been in many a year. I say, let the re-build commence.
There’s nothing we can do about our past transfer failings but we can at least learn from some of the miserable business that we’ve done over these past few years. This article looks to the future as writer Ryan Pitcher gives us his verdict on what gaps are needing to be plugged over the summer.
In quite bizarre circumstances the club bolstered its goalkeepers union last term – starting and ending with semi-final hero Jed Steer. The two in between (three if you include the flappy display of André Moreira at Yeovil Town) proved to be more suspect than what we had all anticipated.
The jury was already out on Ørjan Nyland prior to him rupturing an Achilles that would see him ruled out for the rest of the season prior to the turn of the year. The Norwegian’s shot-stopping was adequate enough but there were plenty of question marks surrounding his agility and as to just how quickly his 6 foot four inch frame could get down to shots low in the corner.
In January Croatian giant Lovre Kalinić joined the club for £6m and it was expected that he would be the man to cement his name to the number one jersey – but having conceded 15 goals in eight matches he was to lose his place in the side. On reflection this may be seen as a tad harsh when you consider the defensive vulnerabilities on display in front of him and coming at a time when injuries were taking their toll. Also coming at time when the January reinforcements had yet to find their feet.
The latest reports are linking Kalinić with a move away from B6 with Stoke’s Jack Butland and Cardiff’s Neil Etheridge being touted as a possible replacement. Although this is plausible I genuinely believe that the trio of goalkeepers that we currently have are more than capable of pushing one another to new heights. Competition for places between the sticks appears to be fierce and, for me at least, there are greater priorities when it comes to the recruitment drive this summer.
It seems as though it’s only the right-back area that we can consider close to being sorted – whereas elsewhere we are desperately thin on the ground.
Tied up in the January transfer window and sent back on loan to SM Caen, Frédéric Guilbert has made his way across the Channel Tunnel to try and make a name for himself in England’s top division. Veteran Egyptian Ahmed Elmohamady (best known as Elmo) will be looking to prove that he’s still capable of plying his trade at the very top. Villa are also being linked with Rangers’ James Tavernier.
As things stand James Chester is the only contracted centre-half that we are likely to keep on. Elsewhere, the club look set to complete the signing of would be cult hero in the making Tyone Mings for anywhere between £12-£15m and there are reports suggesting that out-of-contract Gary Cahill could bet set to re-join the club where it all began.
Unfortunately it seems that Mings partner in crime last season, Axel Tuanzebe, is needed to shore things up at his parent club Manchester United.
Mings, Cahill, Chester and one more – perhaps younger – central defender ought to be sufficient enough to go into the new season. Unless Smith and his backroom team deem Kortney Hause good enough to make the step-up.
It’s the left-back position that concerns me most. Neil Taylor may well have had a solid end to last season but there’s little room for sentiment as we gear towards a much tougher proposition. He just isn’t good enough and this is an area where me must seek to strengthen pronto.
This summer would be as good as a time as any to put James Bree’s miserable two-and-a-half year stay at Villa to an end. I’m sure that there will be plenty of Championship suitors should we wish to sell.
As things stand this is clearly our strongest of areas – especially centrally. The magic man Jack Grealish, the energetic John McGinn and the wand of a left peg Conor Hourihane will all have a big part to play this season.
The periphery of the current squad looks to be an interesting one. It might be best to call time on Birkir Bjarnason who in his own words has had a stop start stay at Villa. He has previously been linked with a move back to Italy and that would be probably be best for both club and player because first-team opportunities are going to be even tougher to come by.
I do fear that Henri Lansbury’s £40k-a-week contract will scare away any prospective buyers. The former Arsenal and Nottingham Forest man has had a difficult time of it since joining back in January 2017 and has spent far too many of his days in the treatment room. If he gets a decent pre-season under his belt then I think that he’s a player that could add something to the party.
The defensive midfield area is a position that certainly needs bolstering. A no-thrills sort of player that’s not only combatant but perfectly able to springboard a counter-attack – similar to a primed Nemanja Matić. Of course, in the top division, there will be plenty of times Villa will be hemmed-in somewhat and that well-disciplined extra cover to sit just in front of the backline will be a necessity.
We have been linked with Real Valladolid’s Ruben Alcarez who could play there but he might be deemed a little lightweight for the English game. I’ll be very intrigued to hear developments on any player that could conceivably make this position his own.
Out wide is another area that requires multiple additions. Andre Green flattered to deceive when returning from his dismal loan spell at Portsmouth and has plenty to prove. I’m fairly certain Anwar El Ghazi has done enough to earn a move – especially with his crucial opener in the play-off final and a €4m deal looks imminent.
Jota – of our arch rivals across the City – worked at Brentford with Dean Smith and this is a deal that looks close to being tied up with Gary Gardner going in the opposite direction. He’s not your conventional wide man by any stretch and for me is best deployed as a central attacking midfielder but that’s obviously a position held by our very own Super Jack. It’s clear that we need to add at least three players in the wide area.
And yes – I’m sure Dean Smith will be endeavouring to offload Aaron Tshibola.
Well this area needs a bit of a re-jig too, doesn’t it?
The main man of our maiden Championship season Jonathan Kodjia has been a little bit off the pace over the past couple of years with injuries playing its part and the form of on-loan front-man Tammy Abraham last time out. In January JK was linked with a move back to his native France and it would be of little surprise if he departs over the summer as, it seems to me at least, he has little patience at playing second or third fiddle.
Sheffield United are supposedly interested in taking Scott Hogan permanently, which would be handy when you consider his weekly wage, but if this move fails to materialise I think we’ll struggle to offset elsewhere. Unless of course one of the relegated clubs wish to take him off of our hands.
As for the remainder of the current contingent: Keinan Davis could be kept on in order to fulfil some of the cup matches but I don’t see any room at the inn for the young Rushian Hepburn-Murphy who – even during times of a striker shortage – hasn’t come close to consideration. As for Ross McCormack, that waste man has now left the club having signed a ‘variation agreement.’
Now 21 years of age and back from his spell at Carlisle United, Callum O’Hare will look to come back and make a headway towards the first team playing squad. If he doesn’t do it this year then that could be that for the academy product.
Liverpool’s soon-to-be out-of-contract Daniel Sturridge can certainly plug a gap up top – with no fee involved we shouldn’t be too put-off by a hefty salary. But even Sturridge must realise it’s unlikely that he’ll net himself another £120k-a-week earner.
The newspapers would have you believe that Chelsea are prepared to listen to offers for Tammy Abraham on the back of his hugely successful loan spell at the Villa last season – and the reported £25m fee is about right for a player who has shown that he can do it in the second tier but still has everything to prove in the elite league. Is it a gamble worth taking?
Based on what I’ve seen on social media, the man Deano brought to Brentford for just £1.6m, Neal Maupay is the fans choice for the number nine shirt next season. I guess he gives you a little bit of everything; very strong, good at holding up the ball with his back to goal but also pretty nippy too and he sure has an eye for goal.
Despite being good with his feet Tammy is seen by some quarters as a bit of a target man, one man who isn’t however is Dwight Gayle. Surplus to requirements up at Newcastle he’s a striker that’s always been keen to play off the shoulder of the last defender. There will be occasions where this option may suit us a little more than playing a big man i.e. counter attacking and when we’re looking to stretch our counterparts. It’s always good to have options.
Idle paper talk also links us to Porto’s Moussa Marega and then there’s the out-of-favour Charlie Austin whom we are linked with seemingly every transfer window.
Manager Dean Smith, our Sporting Director Jesus Garcia Pitarch and Chief Executive Christian Purslow clearly have plenty to occupy them over the summer months. By my reckoning we’re around a dozen signatures short of having a squad capable of being competitive in the Premier League. Needless to say, there’s plenty of time to get our business done, but the earlier the better as opposed to being squeezed at the very end of the window.
Who would you like to see donning a Villa shirt next season? Don’t forget to leave your comments below…
Thank you for reading and UP THE VILLA!