The coming transfer window will surely be quieter than last summer for Aston Villa, who recruited an incredible 12 players ahead of their debut season back in the Premier League.
Despite reaching a League Cup final, the results of Villa’s spending spree have been underwhelming. Dean Smith’s side sit second bottom of England’s top flight, having lost their last four league matches before the season was suspended.
Whichever division they are in next season, the Villans squad will need further reshaping to make them more competitive in 2020/21.
If Aston Villa do make an immediate return to the Championship there will surely be a whole host of departures.
That exodus would be partly driven by players who wish to continue playing at the highest level, but it may also be financially motivated – the club’s recent accounts don’t make for particularly pleasant reading and the Midlands outfit would be hit hard by relegation.
Mounting a promotion challenge while balancing the books could be a tricky tightrope to walk at Villa Park, especially when you factor in the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a different story if the Villans survive, however. Sporting director Jesus Garcia placed a great emphasis on recruiting relatively young players with the potential to improve last summer, so the core of their current squad will be retained ahead of next season.
The biggest concern for Villa fans will be how they replace Jack Grealish – the attacking midfielder has had a hand in 13 of the team’s 34 goals this season, scoring seven and assisting six.
It’s hard to imagine a situation where the 24-year-old doesn’t leave this summer, with Old Trafford his most likely destination. Reports suggest Manchester United could be willing to part with up to £70million to secure Grealish’s services, which would be a welcome boost to the Villa Park coffers.
linked with a move for the £30million-rated star.
Other players who could leave in the summer include out of contract defender James Chester (currently on loan at Stoke City) and striker Borja Bastón. The former Swansea City man is coming to the end of a short-term deal with Villa and is wanted by Real Zaragoza.
Loan signings Pepe Reina and Danny Drinkwater arrived to help combat an injury crisis in January, but are unlikely to be in Dean Smith’s longer-term plans.
Key areas to strengthen
The biggest problem for Aston Villa since their return to the Premier League has been a porous defence – they have conceded the most goals in the whole division (56), have the worst record when it comes to expected goals against (an xGA of 63.87) and are bottom of the rankings for shots against per 90 (15.32).
That paints a worrying picture in terms of Villa’s chances of survival and will need to be addressed urgently if they do steer clear of the drop.
It’s not the only area which needs strengthening though. There’s a lack of top-flight experience right through this team and that naivety has played a part in the club’s struggles to date.
The centre of midfield has looked weak and is crying out for a commanding presence to shield the back line, while none of Villa’s striking options are the kind of proven 15-goal a season forwards that you can rely on week in, week out.
If Grealish departs there will be a creative void which needs filling too. It’s a big task, but the club’s hierarchy must prioritise quality over quantity if next season is to pan out better than this one.
Aston Villa are reportedly targeting Kosovan forward Milot Rashica, in an effort to top up their goal tally next season. The 23-year-old, who can play out wide, in attacking midfield or up front, has ten goals and four assists for Werder Bremen in 2019/20.
Smith has also previously expressed interest in Brentford attacker Saïd Benrahma, though the Bees’ Championship promotion charge could see them leapfrog the Villans. If the West London club don’t reach the promised land then he will surely come onto the market again this summer.
At the back Congolese defender Christian Luyindama has been linked with an £11million move from Galatasaray, while veteran centre-back Domagoj Vida could provide the experience to guide one of the Premier League’s youngest teams.
Marseille's Maxime Lopez is another name in the frame – the 22-year-old creator is rumoured to be available for as little as £10million when the transfer window reopens.