In what may have been the worst emotional roller coaster ride Aston Villa fans have ever been on, Jack Grealish has left his boyhood club for Manchester City. With a gentlemen’s agreement and buyout clause serving as the spark for the move, it seems Villa were forced to accept the £100 million bid on the table.
However, Villa’s top eight ambitions are alive and well after completing two transfers yesterday to bolster their attack. With the Grealish money in hand, the club are reportedly looking out for an attacking midfielder and a holding midfielder, as well as depth at centre-back and goalkeeper.
Danny Ings (Done Deal)
In a surprise signing late last night, the club have signed Southampton striker Danny Ings for £25 million plus £5 million in add ons. The news made sure that the fan base ended their day on a high note; keeping faith in the project alive for any incoming players.
At 29, and as Villa’s highest paid player at £120,000 per week, Ings is a signing for Villa to compete for Europe now and is a real statement of intent for one of the league’s most reliable strikers when fit. When it comes to fitness, it is often quoted that Ings is injury prone and the fact that he has had injury trouble is no secret; spending almost two years on the sidelines at Liverpool. However in the last two years, Ings has put that behind him and has missed fewer matches than Grealish in that time. While it is unlikely that Ings could play every minute like Ollie Watkins last season, it is also unlikely that he will be asked to do so, with Villa’s squad depth in attack looking healthy.
Ings’ qualities are not only pace and goal scoring, but his off-ball work is why he was so favored by Ralph Hassenhüttl. Defensively, Ings works hard and is an is an adept presser that can compliment Watkins.
In attack too, Ings tends to drop off and drift wide as a false nice before using his pace to get back into the box as a true nine. This creativity will take some burden off Emi Buendia without Grealish and we may see a fluid front three, with other new signing, Leon Bailey, and Watkins.
Ings can play as an inside forward from either wing, which allows him to interchange with the other two forwards, although this move might see Watkins start out of the left. With this in mind, Villa can be flexible and even play two up front, something seen in some of Villa’s preseason outings, or play Ings as a second striker off of Watkins — a role previously taken up by Ross Barkley. Ings is a top-quality talent that not only scores goals, but brings out goals in those around him and makes Villa far less predicable going into the season.
Leon Bailey (Done Deal)
Villa’s other forward signing is Leon Bailey, who signed his four-year deal on a livestream hosted by his family; assuring fans he will be as fun off the pitch as on it. Bailey emerged as Villa’s main target out of several potential names after Emile Smith Rowe signed a new deal with Arsenal and while originally targeted to work with Grealish, will form part of an exciting attacking line-up without him.
As discussed last week, Bailey is a pacey winger/inside forward and has come off the back of his most prolific season at Bayer Leverkusen after a lot of inconsistency in previous years. Some of that inconsistency is still in his game, however, and Villa’s coaching team will have to take Bailey’s game to the next level.
Part of his improvement last season was his use as an inside forward, cutting onto his favored left foot from the right and using his pace and ball carrying ability to disrupt a defense (i.e., A left footed Raheem Sterling). That favored position on the right could see Buendia move into Villa’s versatile number 10 slot or into the midfield, but Bailey is another signing that gives Villa options in attack.
Axel Tuanzebe (Update #1)
The next player through the doors at Villa Park looks to be Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe, returning to Villa on loan again with The Athletic reporting a deal is close after the defender signed an extension with his parent club.
The same report states that Tuanzebe is being signed primarily as depth for Ezri Konsa and in the right-back position. While it is an odd move for United to sanction, given that the player will not come in as first choice, it is a boost for Villa.
The 23-year-old impressed on loan for Villa in the Championship as well as in his few appearances for United last season. His on-ball abilities are good for playing out of the back as well as offering intelligent defending. He could be used in a three at the back system to see out matches as well as injury cover; giving Villa more options with their defensive shape.
Chances of Occurring: As likely as a Harry Redknapp deadline day signing: 8/10
James Ward-Prowse (Update #1)
It would also seem Villa have reignited their interest in James Ward-Prowse, having a rather low £25 million bid rejected for the Southampton midfielder, who has four years left on his contract. It is difficult. however. to see Villa raising their bid by enough to tempt Southampton into selling, with the recent purchase of Ings and those close to the club indicating their reluctance to sell.
If Villa were to up their bid for the versatile midfielder, they are unlikely to drop John McGinn even with Ward-Prowse in the squad. The Scottish international started every match he was available for last season and is now a senior leader in the squad. A double pivot of Ward-Prowse and McGinn would cause defensive issues as neither player is really a holding midfielder.
However, it has been previously reported that Dean Smith might look to convert McGinn into a well rounded number six as his work rate and defensive ability could certainly facilitate that. In that instance, Villa’s pivot could resemble Chelsea’s Kante and Jorginho central midfield under Thomas Tuchel, with both players offering some defensive work without the ball and in attack, one offering deep ball distribution though long passing and the other offering ball carrying and retention to help move the ball up field.
Southampton’s reluctance to sell and the lack of an obvious place in the starting line-up means that a deal for Ward-Prowse is unlikely at this time. However, deals for Ings and Bailey weren’t on the radar at the beginning of the transfer window and Villa’s ambitions should not be underestimated.
Chances of Occurring: Similar chance to Villa twitter becoming an AFTV knock off: 4/10
Todd Cantwell (Update #1)
Interest in Todd Cantwell has also been reported as a potential Grealish replacement, though Norwich City’s previous comments on the matter make it clear that a move for the play maker would not be cheap. Norwich will not want to lose another of their chance creators after selling Buendia to Villa earlier in the window, with subsequent reports placing a £40 million price tag on his head. With the price set to rise the closer we get to the start of the season, a move for Cantwell looks unlikely.
A move for Cantwell is probably ill advised as he is a close approximation of Grealish’s playing style, but not at quite to same level. There are differences as Cantwell contributes more defensively, for example. On the other hand, in attack, the two look similar, with Cantwell being less effective when comparing statistics from their 2019-2020 seasons. The Norwich player has grown since then, however, and would be an exciting option, but not one that would immediately jump into the starting line-up and making the cost prohibitive even with £100 million in the bank.
Chances of Occurring: As probable as Villa’s media team getting a break before the season begins: 3/10
A new entry into the transfer round-up is Danish left winger/creative midfielder, Mikkel Damsgaard, who has been linked with a host of clubs after impressing at the Euros this summer. The report by Italian outlet Sportmediaset hasn’t been picked up by journalists close to the club and claims Sampdoria would want £35 million for the player.
This price seems to have been inflated by Damsgaard’s Euro performances as he hasn’t showed much in league football yet, scoring only twice and assisting four times in 35 games. At 21, the player would come in as a development prospect, but the price, again, seems too inflated for a player who would not immediately start.
Damsgaard is an interesting prospect to keep an eye on this summer, with Villa reportedly in the market for a creative attacker, but it looks unlikely to be the Dane at this stage.
Chances of Occurring: Similar chance to Mike Dean going unnoticed while reffing a match: 3/10
The final entry to this bumper round-up came about before the madness at the beginning of the week, with Villa reportedly making a bid of an unknown amount for Oxford United keeper, Jack Stevens.
The young keeper has impressed, helping the club move from the relegation spots of League One to the play-offs. Should Villa up their bid, it would likely see Stevens come in as third choice and allow Viljami Sinisalo to go out on loan and build experience. However, the fact that this story hasn’t made it out of local Oxford news outlets probably means there’s little to it and Villa may opt for one of their own youth prospects, with larger gaps in the squad to fill.
Chances of Occurring: About the same as Man City being punished for FFP violations: 2/10