£65m bold gamble among Aston Villa’s major transfer decisions still to tackle this summer

Taking a look at Aston Villa’s ambitious summer transfer strategy and determining what moves they still need to make if they want to compete for Europe again.

Not much was expected from Aston Villa last season – mid-table anonymity seemed both the minimum requirement and the best possible outcome. But Unai Emery had other ideas, and a stunning winning streak through the spring catapulted the Villans up the table and into the European positions. Now Villa are looking to take that unexpectedly high platform and build it even higher.

The midlands club have only made three permanent signings so far, but they are the signings of an upwardly-mobile side. Youri Tielemans has been brought in on a free transfer, the excellent Pau Torres has been persuaded to sign from Villarreal and a club record fee of around £50m has been spent on Bayer Leverkusen’s goal-happy wide forward Moussa Diaby. Their squad is starting to look pretty handy.

But that doesn’t mean the work is done. The gap between the established European contenders and the new pretenders of the modern era, such as Villa, Brentford and Brighton, is still substantial on paper – and so the hard graft of sculpting in the squad to go toe to toe with the big boys on a regular basis continues. Let’s look at where Villa are – and what decisions they still have to make – as they enter the final week of pre-season.

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There aren’t any huge gaps in Villa’s squad right now. There’s quality from one through to eleven, and respectable depth at most positions – but Villa are still looking to upgrade their squad where they can. As such, the pedigree of the players they are rumoured to be keeping tabs on is pretty strong.

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It’s up front where Villa are really working to bring in another big name. We recently took a look at several of the big-name forwards and attacking midfielders that the club had been linked with, and they’ve since followed our suggestion and signed Diaby – but they’re still linked with another big signing, with Ferran Torres’ name never far from the headlines.

Brennan Johnson still seems to be a serious target, while Juventus’ young English winger Samuel Iling-Junior has been added to the rumour mill alongside his team-mate and Italian international Federico Chiesa. The former would cost somewhere in the region of £20m but looks like a big talent, if a little unrefined as it stands. The latter is an established but injury-prone star who would set Villa back something to the tune of £60-65m – big money but worth it, at least if Chiesa can stay fit. That is not a small if.

We’re going to stick with our advocacy of Torres, but not of Johnson – and suggest that Iling-Junior is an exciting investment while Chiesa is a big gamble, but one which has a very high ceiling if it comes off alright. A frontline of Diaby, Watkins and Chiesa could give quite a few defences nightmares.

Elsewhere, versatile Levante defender Marc Pubill could come in as a depth piece, while there’s a chance that Emery could be on the lookout for another central midfielder too – a reported bid for Sofyan Amrabat has been blown out of the water between Manchester United and Saudi Arabia, but Franck Kessié has been mentioned as well. With Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, John McGinn and Leander Dendoncker already in place and Tielemans added to the mix, there isn’t a pressing need for an extra body, but Villa are clearly determined to add any upgrades that they can. A recent report suggesting a move for Nice centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo points in the same direction. It doesn’t look as though Villa plan to be very sentimental this summer, and stalwarts of previous campaigns could easily be forced down the pecking order at pace.

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There haven’t been too many reports linking established players with moves elsewhere, with the only player routinely linked with a transfer being World Cup winning goalkeeper Emi Martínez. Most of the big clubs in need of a new man between the sticks are sorted now, however, so it looks more than likely that the madcap Argentinian will be spending at least one more season in Birmingham.

Douglas Luiz, the battling Brazilian midfielder, has also been linked with fresh employment, with rumours from a couple of weeks ago suggesting both Arsenal and Spurs were interested. Nothing solid has come from that yet, but the expected asking price of £35m would probably represent fair business, and while it would be a loss, Villa fans probably wouldn’t feel too bad for too long if a quality replacement like Kessié came in instead.

Elsewhere, don’t expect too much movement unless back-up players feel especially fed up with new arrivals. It’s possible that, say, Kourtney Hause decides to start looking elsewhere if Todibo was signed, or that Dendoncker might request a transfer should fresh midfielder reinforcements be signed, but the only other player whose name has appeared on the rumour mill in the last two or three weeks is Ollie Watkins, suggested as a possible target for striker-needy clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs. Those reports seem entirely speculative, however, and the former Exeter City man is more than likely staying put.

Villa are in an enviable position, for now at least – blessed with a settled squad which they have license to pepper with a little extra ability, and not too many sharks circling their best players. Another big season, of course, and that may well change quickly.

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Of course, as Villa expand the squad, that does risk squeezing out some of the gifted youngsters on the club’s books, and as such the loan market could well come into play. Tim Iroegbunam, who had a good season on loan at QPR last year, is a great example of an emerging player who needs game time to develop, but may not be knocking too hard on the door of the starting eleven just yet.

There have also been hints dropped that 19-year-old Colombian winger Jhon Durán could spend some time on loan in Spain this coming season, while Keinan Davis and Jaden Philogene – who spent the last campaign at Watford and Cardiff City respectively – will want clarity on their future as well. Realistically, neither is ready for to push players like Ollie Watkins or Moussa Diaby for their places, so another year in the Championships may be the best bet for all parties.