Aston Villa

Aston Villa

Premier League • England

FOUR key areas Aston Villa have to address to make massive Champions League statement

Emery, Carlos, Hermoso, Veiga

TT has picked out four things Villa need to address after their UCL qualification

Aston Villa qualified for the Champions League for the first time after top-four rivals Tottenham lost to Manchester City on Tuesday and TT looks at areas where Unai Emery needs to strengthen his starting XI and also other factors that could move the club on a further step next season.

Spurs had been the only team capable of overtaking Villa prior to the City clash but are now five points behind Emery’s side with only game remaining as the Premier League draws to a close this weekend.

Villa have not reached Uefa’s premier club competition since it rebranded from the European Cup to the Champions League back in 1991-92.

They last played in the European Cup 41 years ago in 1982-83, having won the competition the season before when they beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in the final in Rotterdam thanks to a Peter Withe goal.

Villa did finish second and fourth in the Premier League in 1992-93 and 1995-96 respectively, but in both those seasons only first was good enough to reach the Champions League.

But that’s all in the past as the midlands outfit prepare for a whole new adventure that will test their squad strength and Emery‘s tactical nous even further.

And TEAMtalk have been speaking to massive Villa fan Daniel Jones about the main factors that could lead to success in Europe, coupled with Villa remaining competitive domestically and still challenging for the top four again.

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SUMMER SIGNINGS KEY

Goalkeeper (high priority)

Jones states that Villa desperately need a backup goalkeeper as Joe Gauci is too young and doesn’t seem ready, based on the fact he’s not played a single minute since signing. The less said about Robin Olsen’s qualities as a No.2 the better!

Emi Martinez has been simply outstanding for Villa this season despite being prone to the odd howler, as we was on Monday night against Liverpool. There have even been rumours about Chelsea potentially weighing up a swoop for the Argentine World Cup winner, although we understand those reports are well wide of the mark.

Convincing someone to sign as a clear backup is never an easy task but there will be plenty of experienced stoppers out there this summer looking for a job – and one of those is the still out of work David de Gea!

Left-back (medium priority)

Lucas Digne has had a fantastic season and really deserves to stay and have a shot at the UCL but his wages are considered far too high, as they are for many of the Steven Gerrard era signings. For that reason, it wouldn’t be a massive surprise if the former Everton star is sold and Emery looks to bring in a new left-back.

Villa have been heavily linked with versatile Atletico Madrid star Mario Hermoso on a free transfer, a move that would represent clever business and also allow any available transfer funds to be spent on other areas of the squad.

Right-back (high priority)

Matty Cash is simply viewed as not good enough to take that step up to Champions League level and is vulnerable to giving away penalties too – not something you want to be going into UCL games against greater quality panicking about.

Kosta Nedeljkovic was signed in January but is viewed as a younger understudy to whoever is potentially brought in this summer, while the incredibly versatile Ezri Konsa can also fill in at right-back if required – which he has done on many occasions ahead of Cash this season.

In terms of players linked with Villa, superb Bayer Leverkusen wing-back Jeremie Frimpong would be the dream addition – although there’s every chance he remains with the Bundesliga champions after Xabi Alonso’s decision to remain as manager.

Midfielder (high priority)

There can be no arguing about just how strong Villa’s midfield has been in guiding them to that fourth-placed finish, with Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, Youri Tielemans, Boubacar Kamara and John McGinn remarkably costing them a combined £17.5million to put together.

However, Kamara is certain to miss the start of the season with the ACL injury he suffered back in February. Add in the fact that, him being in the starting line-up allows Luiz to have more of a free licence to get forward, and the addition of another body in Emery’s engine room could be critical to the club’s success in the group stage.

PSG’s Carlos Soler has been mentioned as a potential signing and is a player Emery knows well from his time coaching in Spain. Former Celta Vigo midfielder Gabri Veiga is also an option as he eyes a return to mainland European after a switch to Al-Ahli in summer 2023.

Attacker (high priority)

Whether it’s an attacking midfielder to break down high lines or a tricky winger for if Leon Bailey or Moussa Diaby are having a bad day, Villa need more flair in the forward areas.

Gabri Veigia is a summer target for Villa

Veiga is certainly a player who could fill that No.10 role, while Crysencio Summerville will be a major target if Leeds fail to win promotion via the Championship play-offs.

Other options include dynamic Norwich City starlet and Atheltic Bilbao’s Nico Williams, although Arsenal, Liverpool and Barcelona are also after the exciting attacker.

In terms of striker, Ollie Watkins remains the main man but it’s critical that Villa keep hold of Jhon Duran, who has shown glimpses that he could become a world class No.9.

However, if the Colombian is sold (Chelsea are known admirers) then another option to compete with Watkins will be an absolute must.

Prolific Lille forward Jonathan David is a likely target even if Duran stays, although playing second fiddle to Watkins would be tough for a player who is also being courted by a number of clubs who need a new out-and-out striker.

VILLA SALES

In order to bolster their squad this summer there’s a strong chance that Villa will offload a few players to help balance the books and keep the right side of football finance chiefs.

As we mentioned earlier, the club could decide to cash in on Digne if they can find a suitable alternative, while AC Milan are currently sniffing around another high earner from Gerrard’s reign in centre-back Diego Carlos.

Philippe Coutinho, Calum Chambers and Leander Dendoncker are three other players who could well face a Villa Park exit this summer.

Coutinho has never lived up to the starring role he had at Liverpool since joining Villa and is currently on loan at Qatar Stars League club Al-Duhail. He is under contract until 2026 but it’s had to see the club recouping the £17m they paid back in the summer of 2022.

Chambers, meanwhile, has only made seven appearances in all competitions this season and was close to being offloaded in the January window before staying and fighting for his place.

As for Dendoncker, the Belgian is currently on loan at Napoli who have an option to buy the midfielder for £8m this summer. At this stage, that looks unlikely though, with the 29-year-old only making three Serie A appearances.

EMERY TACTICAL TWEAKS

Unai Emery is pretty much set in stone with his tactical approach to games but having coached in the Champions League, he knows that some tweaks will need to be made if Villa are to have any success in the competition.

Unai Emery, Aston Villa

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery

Emery’s teams typically adopt high defensive lines in an attempt to defend away from goal and emphasise an aggressive press that minimises spaces between the lines.

Doing that in the Premier League is one thing but the extra quality in the Champions League means Villa could be ripped to pieces by high-quality passing behind their high backline.

The Spaniard is tactically savvy though and played with more of a mid-block when he was iN was in charge of the likes of Valencia, Sevilla Arsenal and PSG in Europe.

Emery will also not be able to rely purely on pace in his forward line, so bringing in a clever link player could also be crucial to how Villa do when dining at Europe’s top table.

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FORTRESS VILLA PARK

It may be one of the older grounds in the Premier League but more than 42,000 fans being crammed into Villa Park certainly creates one of the better atmospheres in England, and the Villa faithful will be relied upon more than ever to get the team through the Champions League group stage.

That support was fully on show on Monday evening when Villa hit back from 3-1 down against Liverpool to draw 3-3 in front of a raucous home support.

To be fair, Emery’s men only lost three of 19 games in the league at home this season but after winning five successive Europa Conference League games at Villa Park they succumbed to experienced European performers Olympiakos at home in the semi-finals.

That 4-2 loss made it an almost impossible task in Greece and so it proved as Emery’s men ended up losing 6-2 on aggregate.

Those sort of results cannot happen in the UCL group stage otherwise Villa will be staring down the barrel of missing out on the knockout stages of the competition.