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Transfer Round-Up: Where will Villa shop for their midfield options?

7500 to Holte assesses a spate of recent midfield transfer rumors — who is Pape Sarr and is James Ward-Prowse worth it? But above all, how likely are they to join?

Southampton v Leeds United - Premier League Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images

The Euros have begun! And regular European football is back on the menu after a lengthy four weeks without it. With players sitting at home, enjoying the tournament, some might be thinking of their future and if some papers are to be believed, a switch to Aston Villa may be on the cards. With Villa’s summer beginning to look like a Football Manager save, 7500 to Holte brings you five midfield options from the infinite rumor mill and assesses the likelihood of seeing them in claret and blue.

James Ward-Prowse

James Ward-Prowse is a name that has cropped up on a lot of online wish lists this summer and that isn’t surprising. Villa fans have experienced being on the receiving end of Ward-Prowse’s set piece ability and Villa’s set pieces have been noticeably poor for some time now. What is more surprising is that a report has appeared from Paul Doyle of the Guardian, linking Villa with a move for Ward-Prowse.

The prospect of Ward-Prowse at Villa is probably quite unlikely; one reason being cost. Southampton have tied the homegrown 26-year-old down to a long-term contract and the player could be in a similar position to Jack Grealish — being worth more to their current club than any potential buyer.

To illustrate that point, Southampton sold their previous highly regarded 26-year-old captain, Virgil van Djik, for £75 million to Liverpool. What may give Villa fans hope on the two clubs meeting an valuation is Southampton's ownership situation. They are owned by Chinese businessman, Gao Jisheng, and there has been noticeable difficulty in getting funds from China in the last few years; coupled with losses due to the pandemic, the club may be more willing to listen to offers on a star player.

The question then becomes, would Ward-Prowse be worth breaking Villa’s transfer record again for? Ward-Prowse is a proficient Premier League box-to-box number eight and far more than just a set piece specialist, but Villa have a long list of options that can play in the position. It would appear as though John McGinn is can’t be dropped from the side and recent acquisition, Morgan Sanson, as well as youth prospects like Jacob Ramsey and Carney Chukwuemeka are all looking for minutes; that’s before including players like Douglas Luiz, Jack Grealish, and Emi Buendia, who can fill various midfield roles.

Southampton v Leeds United - Premier League
Ward-Prowse would surely be a strong yet pricey option for Villa this summer.
Photo by Robin Jones/Getty Images

Unless Villa change their system, there is little room for Ward-Prowse in the squad, who at 26 would probably not maintain or increase his market value. Villa could move back to a 4-3-3 to facilitate this, but a massive payout for Ward-Prowse would force Villa to adopt a system that hasn’t quite worked for them in the Premier League as yet.

The fact that Villa haven’t profited enough from set pieces this season will not be lost on Dean Smith and set piece/goalkeeping coach, Neil Cutler. However, set piece delivery is something that can be improved over time with practice and it is almost certainly an area that Villa will look at over pre-season. That said, sources close to Villa have indicated that the interest is genuine, but whether they can match the expectations of the selling club and player remain to be seen.

Chances of Occurring: A similar chance to remembering who the official Euros mascot is this year without first looking it up: 3/10

Pape Matar Sarr

Pape Matar Sarr is a player that was linked with Villa several weeks ago by the Daily Mail, primarily linked with Everton in more recent times, however, sources in France have began talking about Villa’s interest in the 18-year-old defensive midfielder. It would seem then that the original rumor may be a case of a broken clock being right twice a day.

FC Metz v Paris Saint-Germain - Ligue 1 Uber Eats
Is Head of Recuitment, Rob Mackenzie, shopping in France again?
Photo by Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, we profiled two other potential defensive midfielders, Sander Berge and André-Frank Zambo Anguissa. Since then, one major thing has changed, Douglas Luiz’s buy-back clause with Manchester City ran its course, with the club choosing not to activate it.

Luiz staying probably means two things; one, Berge is now most likely out as a target for Villa given his profile as a progressive and less active defensive midfielder. Two, Luiz will probably continue as Villa’s first choice defensive midfielder for next season.

Villa could potentially use an upgrade on Marvelous Nakamba, who is excellent defensively, but limited on the ball; he has seen limited minutes in a Villa side that want to be progressive and need to retain possession better to push on next season. Anguissa, who is 25, could probably start for a number of Premier League clubs, so he may not want to switch to a club where he would be rotated in and out of the side.

Sarr at 18, however, is a promising prospect at French club FC Metz; having broken through at the club this season, amassing 18 starts in 22 appearances. A long-term option in which has the potential to develop behind Luiz, Sarr’s defensive profile is impressive and statistically similar to West Ham’s Declan Rice.

The young Senegalese midfielder offers more tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes than either Luiz or Nakamba and resides in the middle of the two for pressures and clearances. He also holds his own when on the ball too, offering a similar number of progressive passes to Luiz, but carries the ball out of danger while dribbling far more. Like Luiz, Sarr can also play in a more progressive position, which would facilitate switching to a 4-3-3 formation.

There are some issues too, as with most long-term prospects, he is a bit shot happy outside the box, but with three goals this season, he can certainly create some promising efforts on goal. Additionally, he is only 180 centimetres in height and would need to further develop his impressive physicality for the Premier League, but at 18, time remains on his side.

Sources closer to Villa have not yet picked up this particular rumor, but with football club preferring to do their business quietly, news is always likely to come from the selling club first. With Emi Buendia arriving for a lower fee than initially stated, the reported price of €25-30 million seems realistic and within Villa’s means for a prospect like Sarr.

The financial situation of Ligue 1 makes sales likely, but the player is contracted to 2025, is well regarded, and reportedly has plenty of other interest, so Metz are in a position to hold on their valuation of the player. The player also shares an agent with Tyrone Mings, which may help as other European clubs are interested. Villa Head of Recruitment, Rob Mackenzie, is credited with finding N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez for Leicester and may be looking to add to that record of finding gems from the French leagues.

Chances of Occurring: As likely as England are to go out to France or Portugal in the last 16 of the Euros: 6/10

Giorgian De Arrascaeta

The next potential target comes from news out of Uruguay for left winger and number 10, Giorgian De Arrascaeta, from back-to-back Brazilian Série A champions Flamengo. The Uruguayan, despite not plying his trade in Europe, has been capped by his national team in major tournaments, meaning that he would likely meet the United Kingdom’s points requirement for international players.

Stylistically, De Arrascaeta seems to fill many of the requirements that Villa need in an attacker; scout reports have him as a creative player who has the ability to find the back of the net, scoring eight and assisting nine last year, with 13 goals and 14 assists in 2019. He is also an active presser for the Brazilian league, recovering the ball in the attacking third 2.09 times per 90 in 2019. That being said, the signing of Emi Buendia from Norwich covers Villa’s need for a pressing forward, who is able to hold possession and use it creativity when Grealish is out of the side.

2020 Brasileirao Series A: Flamengo v Fluminense Play Behind Closed Doors Amidst the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic
Could Villa’s recruitment team be looking at some South American targets this summer?
Photo by Wagner Meier/Getty Images

This link comes from the player’s own country, similar to the original rumors about Marvelous Nakamba, and last summer’s ill-fated attempt to lure Milot Rashica to Villa Park, so there was some potential to this rumor. If De Arrascaeta did appear on a target list in the Villa recruitment offices, it would seem that Villa already got their first choice for the role in Emi Buendia, so a move now would be unlikely.

Chances of Occurring: Similar to Tyrone Mings getting the Golden Boot: 1/10

Ruben Loftus-Cheek

A rumor in the same vein is a report from earlier in the summer on yet another Chelsea perpetual loanee, Ruben Loftus-Cheek. In a similar case to De Arrascaeta, the signing of Buendia largely rules out another attacking midfielder, regardless of whether Villa choose to adopt a 4-3-3 again this year, as they have a large selection of attacking options already at the club.

Loftus-Cheek may be looking at fellow Chelsea man, Danny Drinkwater, and hoping his career doesn’t pan out in a similar way after a so-so loan spell with Fulham. Villa’s recruitment team are still probably waking up in a cold sweat over the Drinkwater and Barkley loan spells, so it is unlikely that Villa go back to the Chelsea loan pool next season unless there is an emergency.

Chances of Occurring: About the same as North Macedonia making it out of the group stage: 1/10

Emile Smith-Rowe

Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Will Villa cause another Arsenal upset?
Photo by Neil Hall - Pool/Getty Images

This transfer rumor probably burst a few blood vessels in north London. While a fun link when Villa and Arsenal were battling out for Emi Buendia, the Arsenal youth product is expected to sign a new contract and stay at the Emirates. Perhaps this rumor came from an agent trying to increase their fee or a Tottenham fan on the wind up.

Changes of Occurring: About the same as Grealish making his way to Arsenal: 0/10