Aston Villa move notebook: Centre-back frustration, Robin Olsen, n…
Steven Gerrard has been tasked with finishing the season strongly at Aston Villa to take them as close to the European qualification spots as possible.
The head coach has already been backed in the January move window, bringing in Philippe Coutinho on loan and Lucas Digne for £25million with “one or two” other deals nevertheless left to do over the next fortnight prior to the move window closing on January 31.
Last week, Gerrard dropped a huge hint in terms of what he’d like next and that’s a new centre-back. Villa have additional highly-rated defender Kerr Smith to their ranks from Dundee United for an initial £800,000 with the Scottish youth international set to start out with Villa’s under-23s.
Villa, of course, were disappointed with Axel Tunzebe’s decision to rip up his Villa loan deal in favour of finishing the season playing more regularly at Napoli.
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On his centre-back search, Gerrard said: “Look, there are a associate of situations that you have to analyse: do we need someone to come in and compete or are we short in a certain area?
“For example, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that Axel Tuanzebe went out of the building for a different challenge: for me, I like four centre-backs so we are analysing that situation.
“What kind of player and who and when – whether this window or next – we’ll have to wait and see. That’s how you analyse it.
“Can we find that level and calibre and pedigree of a player who is going to enhance the team and squad? Or is it something we need because we’re a little bit short for competition or cover or maybe the squad needs someone for a ‘what if’ situation, i.e. an injury or a suspension.”
Kortney Hause, meanwhile, is however to commit his future at Villa over fears over a without of game time while, over the weekend, reports have circulated involving West Ham’s apparent interest given their injury troubles at the back.
Hause’s contract will expire in June with talks current between his agent and Villa over extending it.
Gerrard said: “With Kortney there’s an option (one-year) in place and we’ve already started talking to Kortney.
“We’ve told him how important he is to us and we’d like to keep him about. Kortney’s in a situation where he wants to play a bit more, which we all respect.
“Talks are current in the background. He’s enjoying his training, he’s ready and he’s really pushing for game time, and we’re delighted with what he’s given and has shown so far.
“I’m hoping that those talks progress and we find a solution that suits myself and Aston Villa but, at the same time, I’ll always be respectful to players in terms of what they’re thinking and what they want.”
Gerrard’s search for a new centre-back will step up over the next few days given Ezri Konsa’s hip injury he picked up in the draw against Manchester United.
It was Hause who replaced Konsa at half-time with Villa dangerously short now in terms of options at centre-half.
As reported in other places, there appears no chance of landing Joe Gomez – an unused sub for Liverpool at the weekend – despite Gerrard’s interest in the 24-year-old. Villa’s search for a new defender will continue.
Speaking of move business that’s nevertheless to be done, chief executive Christian Purslow said: “We’re nevertheless looking. We have one or two other things we’d like to get done. There will be no promises and no comments until we do. We’re only halfway by the window.
“It’s a very difficult market, January, and we tend to view summer and January as one. It’s easy to be more strategic about the summer, and perhaps you have to be more opportunistic in January.”
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in other places, it was Gerrard who remained tight-lipped on the apparent need to add more steel in midfield off the back of losing Marvelous Nakamba to a long-term injury.
Villa have been extensively connected with a blockbuster move for Yves Bissouma to help fill the void left by the Zimbabwean, with Douglas Luiz slotting in as Villa’s defensive middle man in recent weeks.
When asked if a new defensive midfielder is a priority in this window, the head coach replied: “Dougie’s been playing as a No.6 of late and playing comparatively well. We’ve got some other options there.
“We’ve made a associate of signings that we’re really pleased about and we’ll just have to keep analysing the situation as we move along and we’ll wait and see.
“I suppose the answer to your question is I’m not going to give anything away in terms of where we’re looking and who we’re looking for – but there’s a possibility that there could be a bit of a change from now until the end of the window.
“There could be outs and there could be ins. We’ll have to analyse it and see how we get on.”
Villa do, however, want to bolster their goalkeeping department with Robin Olsen expected to join on loan for the remainder of the season. The Swedish international, who before worked with sporting director Johan Lange at Copenhagen, has already agreed personal terms with an announcement expected this week.
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It now depends on what Jed Steer does next, knowing Olsen is expected to come in as Villa’s back-up option to Emi Martinez. Steer, 29, is open to a loan move in a bid to play first-team football, while Villa will keep Finnish under-21 international Viljami Sinisalo at the club for the remainder of the season.
And, staying with youngsters, it was Gerrard who recalled Louie Barry, Kaine Kesler-Hayden, Tyreik Wright, Arjan Raikhy and Brad Young from their respective loan spells.
“We have recalled a number of our younger players from loan spells further down the league pyramid,” Gerrard said, who included talented right-back Kesler-Hayden in his squad against United on Saturday.
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“It’s important for their development that we can bring them back to have a look at them at close quarters and estimate where they are at.”
BirminghamLive understands that the majority – if not all – of those mentioned above will head out on loan once again.
It’s now down to Gerrard and loans manager Mile Jedinak to find Villa’s youngsters the right clubs, clubs who will play them week in, week out from now until May.
Kesler-Hayden is, however, expected to stay and competitor Matty Cash at complete-back but a loan back to Swindon Town is an option on deadline day.
Kaine Kesler-Hayden of England looks on during the England Under 19 Training session at St George’s Park
in other places, it’s looking increasingly likely that Cameron Archer sticks around despite his without of game time of late. The striker, who’ll start tonight for Villa’s under-23s against West Brom, is currently third choice behind Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins with central-striker options a little short at present.
Young winger Jaden Philogene-Bidace could, however, be loaned out on deadline day knowing both Bertrand Traore and Trezeguet will return from the Africa Cup of Nations next month, although the latter could head out on loan given Gerrard’s telling comments at the back-end of last week.
On Villa’s Egyptian, Gerrard said: “Trezeguet’s a rare situation. He’s been out for seven months or roundabout. He’s come back and has clearly had a short cameo (vs Brentford) and has gone to the African Cup of Nations.
“We hope he stays fit, healthy and plays well and we’ll analyse that situation as the weeks go by.
“We’ve had a conversation in terms of what he needs next and he clearly needs game. He could find that challenging here so we’ll be respectful to him and we’ll see what lands from now until the end of the window but, as it stands now, he’ll be returning after the AFCON.”
As for what Gerrard’s looking for, it was Purslow who signed off during his tunnel interview with Sky Sports on Saturday, outlining that the the boss wants to add proven winners within his ranks.
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“When we signed Steven Gerrard we knew that he would be a hugely important figure in our plans to enhance the club,” Purslow said, “and to attract the best players.
“When I talked about Steven giving his initial feedback he said, ‘Look, I’d like to take the age profile up a bit. We were the youngest average-age starting team in the league last season. I would like to have proven winners.’
“That winning mentality is probably the single-most important thing Steven Gerrard is focused on.”
Purslow additional: “It’s very crucial that when a new manager comes in we give them time to have a look (at the squad).
“Steven came in in early November and we said, ‘Take six or seven weeks, have a look from the inside before you give us your views on where you want to tweak things, where you want to make a few adjustments.’
“If we can do that in January we will.”