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Transfer Round-Up: Can We Have Milner Back Too Please?

This week’s collection of rumors features returning players, potential free transfer pickups, and defenders from Manchester United, as well as thoughts on Ashley Young, who is all of the above.

Aston Villa Unveil New Signing Ashley Young Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

As the summer heats up, so too does Aston Villa’s transfer intentions it seems. The rumor mill calmed down during the first week of the Euros with the papers attention elsewhere, it appears that Villa are using the opportunity to work towards their summer transfer list.

It has been revealed that the club’s thinking has changed from the quieter window touted earlier in the summer as they have an opportunity to leapfrog opponents yet again with many other European level clubs in a poor state going into the window. To emphasize this, the club has quickly moved on free agent Ashley Young within two days of rumors appearing and sold centre-back Bjorn Engels to Royal Antwerp - two moves with very few rumors or fanfare.

Ashley Young - Done Deal

A player destined the make a return to Villa Park is Ashley Young, who left for Manchester United just before Villa’s decline over a decade ago. While he left as a pacey winger, Young has since converted into a full/wing-back and the 36-year-old did so most recently for Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan, playing 26 times for the Champions in Serie A, while also featuring in a majority of their Champions League fixtures last campaign.

While outside of Villa’s usual target remit, the signing of Ashley Young makes a lot of sense. Villa have lost a few experienced heads in the dressing room at the end of the season, with Heaton, Taylor, and Elmohamady all out of contract, Young not only fills this gap, but does so with a decade of success in two domestic leagues and Europe. Young can provide cover for both full-back positions and further up the pitch too.

Aston Villa Unveil New Signing Ashley Young
Is the return of Ashley Young a smart move by Villa?
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

With the priority this summer being to bolster attack and midfield, Young represents good value on a free transfer, allowing Villa to spend money elsewhere. FA youth cup captain Kesler Hayden, left-back Seb Reven, and youth cup final goal scorer Ben Chrisene are all in need of loan experience in order to make the jump from youth football into real squad depth for the first team; Young’s short-term contract also allows these players to gain that experience and potentially offer his own when they return.

On the footballing side, Young still has a lot of that pace that fans from the O’Neill era will remember, clocking in a top speed of 30.4 km/h (Just 3.5 km/h short of Mbappe), and using it to cover 48.8 km in five matches — the most distance covered by any of Inter Milan’s wing-backs. He also still comes with some elite attacking statistics too, though coming from a wing-back position in which he was asked to be progressive, this too somewhat excuses some low defensive numbers last season.

Covering multiple positions, allowing young players to develop, and offering experience in the dressing room — as a short-term signing, Young makes perfect sense. Other suitors for Young were believed to be Watford and Burnley, with the former having just signed Danny Rose and the latter not being able to offer wages comparable to Villa, nor holding any personal connection for the player in his later years. After the rumor cropped up a few days ago, the club have already sealed the deal, announcing Young on the club website; surely giving fans from the Martin O’Neill era a nice nostalgic kick.

Emile Smith Rowe - Update

Villa’s interest in Emile Smith Rowe appears to be a lot more genuine than initially believed, with Villa having a £25 million bid rejected for the Arsenal midfielder. The attacking midfielder is expected to renew his contract with the Gunners and they are reportedly not interested in entertaining any bids for the player. The bid may have been an attempt to either test Arsenal’s resolve or perhaps turn the player’s head with contract talks ongoing and his club seemingly intent on signing another player in his favored position.

Arsenal v Brighton & Hove Albion - Premier League
Villa have had a bid rejected for Smith Rowe
Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

What this does demonstrate is Villa’s altered summer agenda to not only strengthen themselves, but weaken their opponents (Known here in Germany as the Bayern method) and it shows they are willing to flex their financial muscles to do so.

Chances of Occurring: Still as likely as a £4 million + Josh Onomah bid for Grealish being accepted: 1/10

Axel Tuanzebe

The Manchester United defender and former promotion season loanee Axel Tuanzebe has been the subject of rumors of returning to Villa Park. However, no reliable sources have spoken about a return. In fact, depth at centre-back was reportedly low on the priority list, with the midfield and attack being this summer’s priority — the departure of Engels, however, will have bumped this back onto the agenda.

The 23-year-old has been under utilized by Ole Gunnar Solskjær last year and at his age, is in danger of falling behind his peers without regular game time. This, though, is perhaps the sticking point on any centre-back joining the Villa this summer as the club has a very settled back four and in particular, the pairing of Mings and Konsa.

It is Konsa, on the right side of the defense, that is in need of backup, but thanks to his performances he cannot be dropped from the first team, making a player in need of minutes like Tuanzebe unlikely. The United defender’s contract runs until 2022, with an option to be extended for another year, so he could be a great pickup for many teams with less settled defenses than Villa’s, which makes a comeback look unlikely at this stage.

Chances of Occurring: About the same as Grealish and Foden starting together this summer: 2/10

Joshua King

Another recurring rumor is Josh King becoming a Villa player after the end of his brief stint at Everton. This comes from a report from Turkey, stating that King was set to join Fenerbahçe before his representatives began speaking to Villa.

King has seen his minutes reduced in the last two years and barely played for Bournemouth in the Championship or for Everton after being picked up by them, making it an odd choice for a Villa. The club typically value youth and rising prospects in the market and the signing of Ashley Young appears to be a one-off rather than a new direction. Sources closer to the club have also repeatedly stated that while the centre-forward position is one they will look at, it is with the caveat that Watkins will be first choice, with Wesley and Davis to be assessed in pre-season.

If Villa pickup another striker, it will probably not be until later in the window when Wesley’s ability after a lengthy layoff is assessed. The club spent a then record £22 million on the Brazilian and have since invested significant resources into returning him to fitness. With these factors, a move for King, who similarly hasn’t seen much action in the last year, would make little sense.

Chances of Occurring: The same as Coca-Cola sponsoring Ronaldo: 1/10

Will Hughes

Following up from our midfielder round-up last week, another player linked to Villa has been Watford’s Will Hughes by The Athletic’s Watford reporter Adam Leventhal.

Watford v Millwall - Sky Bet Championship
Could Hughes be an under the radar signing?
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Those that remember Hughes in the Premier League will likely recall an attacking midfielder — first under Pearson and continuing into the Championship, the player has been reinvented into more of a shuttling, box-to-box eight or even a six. The report linking the player to Villa comes fresh off other reports pertaining to James Ward-Prowse and Pape Sarr, who fit this profile to similar degrees. This further indicates that Villa may want to return to a 4-3-3 next season, but want a box-to-box presence to build that out; perhaps with McGinn taking up the Mezzala role (Similar to Mason Mount’s 10/8 role for England) he plays so well for Scotland.

Hughes fits this role well — defensively he makes a high number of pressures, tackles, and blocks, and at just over six foot, offers a bit more height and physicality to a short midfield. Offensively he can carry the ball well and is adept at receiving progressive passes further up the pitch. In the Championship, he made 50.2 passes per 90 minutes at an 84% success rate, so would add a metronomic ability not present in any of Villa’s other eight’s who generally prefer dribbling. This plays out in a high number of shot creating actions, which indicates he was often the pass before the shot, assist, or secondary assist.

The fact that Hughes has not been talked about much by sources close to the club shows that he is probably thought of as an option should the club not secure either Ward-Prowse or Pape Sarr. Despite being a less glamorous signing, Hughes would be a good fit in the Villa midfield; only a year remaining on his contract could make him a moneyball-esque bargain pickup that would improve the side if utilized correctly. There would be some concern about the player’s injury history, but this too would provide a youth player like Carney Chukwuemeka more opportunity for first team minutes next season.

Chances of Occurring: Similar chance to Spain’s strikers scoring a goal: 3/10 (Though should be higher)