Steven Gerrard has continued to stress the importance of a “really strong” pre-season as he prepares for his first full season in charge of Aston Villa in the Premier League. The head coach inherited Dean Smith’s squad of players eight months ago and he was quick to add quality in January. Gerrard did it again this summer after signing Robin Olsen, Diego Carlos, Boubacar Kamara and, of course, Philippe Coutinho.
Here BirminghamLive checks out what will be in Gerrard’s entry bin as the boss returns to work at Bodymoor Heath from next week. You can give your opinion in the comments section HERE.
Cut the fat
Villa currently have 33 first-team players on their books, with eight returning from loan spells last season. Gerrard will be looking to cut the fat, so to speak. Winger Trezeguet remains in talks with Trabzonspor in Turkey for a £3million transfer, while Anwar El Ghazi and Lovre Kalinic are free to find new clubs. Brazilian striker Wesley will remain on loan at Internacional SC until the New Year, while Frederic Guilbert’s future looks a long way off at Villa Park as Gerrard is keen to promote Kaine Kesler Hayden. Villa, meanwhile, are ready to listen to offers from Keinan Davis following his successful spell at Nottingham Forest. Davis, along with Jaden Philogene-Bidace, will have the chance to impress Gerrard during pre-season before decisions are made on their respective futures. The manager will also have to iron out the future of Bertrand Traore and Morgan Sanson given their lack of a game last season. BirminghamLive understands that both players are happy at Villa. Leon Bailey, meanwhile, will have every chance of finally succeeding after a disappointing first season at Villa Park.
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Strengthen the group
A few more player sales will allow Villa to move more freely in the transfer market as they look to rebuild – and improve – their squad of players. As noted, a new left-back, elite-level midfielder and an experienced centre-forward are still on Gerrard’s radar. The manager is desperate for competition for places next season and wants his squad members to fight for the starting shirts every week, which hasn’t been the case for a long time. Sporting Director Johan Lange is currently working closely with Gerrard and the recruitment team to identify high caliber targets in key positions.
Now two players fall under that helm and they are Carney Chuwkuemeka and Douglas Luiz, with the former lighting up the European Under-19 Championships while the latter is attracting strong interest from AC Milan. Gerrard stressed the club had “done everything they could” to persuade 18-year-old Chukwuemeka to sign new terms. The midfielder will use the summer leagues with England as a stepping stone with some very big clubs circling given that he only has 12 months left on his current deal.
As for Douglas Luiz, Gerrard has always been shy about the Brazilian situation. The 24-year-old has played 111 games in just three seasons at Villa Park which underlines his importance. Given the addition of Kamara as Villa’s new defensive midfielder, it is hoped that Douglas can make a real statement playing in his preferred No.8 position next season. Clarity is needed on the former Man City man’s future, however. Douglas is still valued at £30m despite his contract being downsized. Will Villa be looking to cash in or, on the contrary, will a new deal be in sight?
Elsewhere, Gerrard is hoping for a final decision from Ashley Young next week. Young, who turns 37 in July, has been offered a new 12-month contract.
As Emi Martinez alluded to in an interview with Ben Foster, Michael Beale’s importance at Bodymoor Heath was second to none. Beale has since left to manage QPR and Gerrard moved quickly to bring in Neil Critchley from his role as Blackpool manager. Having already held a managerial position, Critchley should fit into the void left by the influential Beale. That should be transparent as, having had time to lie down and put his own stamp on the club, Gerrard will take on a more active role next season given Beale’s departure.
The next step on Gerrard’s whiteboard will be potential loanees. A big question mark will be next to Cameron Archer’s name with a decision on a loan move or not to be made very late in the window. Tim Iroegbunam is another touted with a loan move, but BirminghamLive have been told that is not currently on the agenda with the 18-year-old set to be mentored by new addition Kamara. Kortney Hause could be loaned out knowing Gerrard will have five centre-backs when Ezri Konsa returns from injury while at the academy Aaron Ramsey, Louie Barry and Ben Chrisene are all set to complete EFL loan deals. Highly rated centre-back Josh Feeney, 17, will be kept in the first-team squad on a regular basis with a loan deal likely in January. It will be the same with 16-year-old Rory Wilson, who will formalize his £300,000 transfer from Rangers next week. Moreover, depending on whether Villa are indeed busy bringing in new players, loans could well be considered for first-team players Sanson and Traore.
It was in April when Gerrard explained how he would continue to review the Aston Villa captaincy before appointing its full-time skipper ahead of the start of the 2022/23 season. Tyrone Mings will remain the favorite to retain the captaincy, but BirminghamLive have been told John McGinn is a strong contender while other options will be assessed.
Solid start to the season
Villa will have six games before the transfer deadline and it is imperative that they get off to a good start. Villa’s first three fixtures – Bournemouth, Everton and Palace – look nice ahead of a Carabao Cup second round draw. After that it was West Ham and Arsenal, two sides who took six points apiece from Villa last season as Gerrard’s men continued to struggle against teams above them in the table. Villa need to beat some of the so-called ‘big boys’ this coming season. Great results will provide much-needed momentum as Gerrard looks to make Villa a much stronger and more consistent side heading into 2022/23.