Aston Villa will play in Europe for the first time in 13 years after they sealed their place in next season’s Europa Conference League.
Unai Emery inherited a talented but struggling team. Under his leadership, they would go on to win 15 of their final 25 matches, their success consequently means they’ll be competing on multiple fronts next season. In turn, this summer takes on greater importance, Villa will need a squad rich in depth and they’ve gone about things well early on by securing the services of Belgian midfielder Youri Tielemans.
His final season with Leicester was nothing to write home about but a change of scenery could do him good. Emery will expect more signings to follow. Combing strong rumours and bookmakers’ favourites we’ve looked at who could join Tielemans in the upcoming weeks.
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After bringing in a big name in Youri Tielemans, Unai Emery is reportedly hoping to secure a reunion with Pau Torres at Villa Park. Emery managed Torres while at Villarreal and together the pair won the Europa League in 2021, and the centre-back has just 12 months remaining on his deal with the Yellow Submarine.
It feels like a lifetime ago Chelsea was doing everything in their power to prevent Callum Hudson-Odoi from joining Bayern Munich, at that point a number of young English footballers were making waves in Germany’s top division. But Hudson-Odoi never got that move until a loan spell at Bayer Leverkusen where he made 14 appearances without scoring a single Bundesliga goal.
He returns to Chelsea this summer but it remains to be seen whether the 22-year-old forward will be part of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans, and he is being tipped to leave. If the decision is made to part ways then Villa would be an ideal landing spot. Hudson-Odoi already has a wealth of Premier League experience (four goals and 12 assists in 72 outings).
A frustrating chapter with Liverpool will come to an end this summer. Injuries have derailed a once-promising stint at Anfield for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who is no longer under consideration by Jurgen Klopp as he seeks to rebuild. Oxlade-Chamberlain will be a free agent at the end of the month. His multifunctional traits make him an interesting asset when fit. Oxlade-Chamberlain is capable of playing at right-back, across midfield and further up top on both flanks.
Giovani Lo Celso
It stands to reason those who have already played under Emery will be linked. Giovani Lo Celso previously served the Spanish coach at Paris Saint-Germain before linking up at Villarreal, across both spells he’d make 86 appearances while scoring eight times and creating 10 more. The forward, though, is a Tottenham player but according to reports isn’t keen on returning with his present five-year deal expiring in two years’ time. Spurs will reportedly demand between £20-£25m for the Argentine playmaker.
It never quite worked out for Pedro Gonçalves at Wolves but since leaving England the Portuguese attacking midfielder has grown leaps and bounds. He is arguably Sporting CP’s most influential player and following three incredibly productive seasons another crack at Premier League football potentially beckons.
Pedro Gonçalves is the first player to score against Arsenal at the Emirates in the #UEL this season.
46.05 yards. ? pic.twitter.com/nZyt3YFThv
— Squawka Live (@Squawka_Live) March 16, 2023
He will not be short on suitors but it’s reasonable to suggest Villa wouldn’t be too much of a jump forward compared to joining a ‘big six’ team. Gonçalves’ versatility can also be a weapon. He’s strong on either flank or in central midfield where the Chaves native has been effective.
Very few covered themselves in glory as Leeds suffered the ignominy of relegation. Tyler Adams was perhaps among that handful. The cerebral defensive midfielder is expected by many observers to play top-flight football somewhere next season. If the American international does leave Elland Road expect a tidy profit as Leeds acquired his signature for a reported £20m last summer.
Despite a saddening end to last season, Adams’ numbers were impressive even comparable to Declan Rice, the Leeds man completed 82.5 passes per 90 minutes in the Premier League while Rice completed 86.5. Adams averaged 67.8 touches per 90 minutes, an almost identical figure to Rice with 68. In terms of aerial duels won (1.04 for Adams and 1.02 for Rice) and carries (34.1 and 39.9 respectively) there was little to separate both.
Another relegated from the Premier League but expected to command heavy interest this summer. Leiciester’s surprise demotion, unfortunately, coincided with Harvey Barnes’ most prolific season. The winger ended with 13 goals across 34 appearances. It wasn’t enough to keep the Foxes up. However, the 25-year-old gained new fans, some of whom hoping to acquire his signature. A move to Villa will not bring too much upheaval considering the distance to where he is currently at. He also brings another dimension of attack for a side determined to build on Emery’s good work.
Aston Villa looks set to miss out on another target in Nico Williams, who is reportedly going to sign a new deal with Athletic Bilbao. But they have now been linked with another European attacker, this time Federico Chiesa.
Following a lengthy spell on the sidelines due to injury, Chiesa showed glimpses of his quality at the backend of Juventus’ season which saw them forced to settle for a place in the Europa Conference League. Given their absence from the Champions League, Juventus are likely to see a number of players leave, with Chiesa expected to be among those saying goodbye.
According to Corriere dello Sport, Aston Villa are one of four Premier League clubs interested in Chiesa, alongside Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester United.
Three ways Aston Villa could line up under Unai Emery next season
Enter the relegated three
Emery’s preferred formation is 4-2-3-1 and the expectation should be Villa predominantly utilising this system next term. In this hypothetical line-up, Tielemans slots into the number 10 role leaving a central midfield axis of McGinn and Adams, while Barnes takes up the left-wing berth, with Chiesa on the right.
Now this is where the fun begins. Emery has seldom gone for a back three. He did once while serving Villarreal and if Villa go mega-spending this summer, acquiring some of those we’ve listed, playing 3-4-3 could be on the cards.
Pedro Gonçalves is no stranger playing in this system as he’s often taken up the spot on the left of a front-three. He could dovetail in tandem with Emiliano Buendía in a pretty formidable supporting cast for Watkins, whose back-to-goal and hold-up play will be crucial to this link-up.
In that one previous game Emery had gone for this approach Lo Celso was deployed on the right side of his midfield four. The makeup of his defence would be interesting, though a left-back in every definition, Digne is no stranger to tucking inside and playing more centrally.
One system Emery has already unleashed at Villa is the good old-fashioned 4-4-2 that somewhat outdated shape proved to be a difference maker against Tottenham for example. Watkins is more than happy to lead Villa’s attack solo but it doesn’t hurt for someone close by.