The spring international break has arrived at perhaps the wrong time for Steve Bruce’s resurgent Aston Villa team who have chalked up five wins in their last six matches.
The current form shown by the team is the best run of results achieved all season and it is a pity that players will now be travelling to their national teams just as some consistency and team spirit was developing at the club.
Villa’s experienced manager will now have some time to reflect on a turbulent season in preparation for the next campaign. Whilst there is still a remote chance (100/1) that Villa will crash the top six, the most likely expectation is that Villa will be playing in the Championship again in August. Following a hectic season of arrivals in the 2016/17 season the club are expected to be less busy this summer, focusing instead on quality.
Thinking ahead, I have looked at some players who may complete Steve Bruce’s squad ahead of a strong (and hopefully promotion winning) season in 2017/18.
Solving Villa’s goalkeeper situation will be top of Bruce’s list when it comes to the summer transfer window.
Matt Ryan, the 24-year-old Aussie keeper will be considering his options at Valencia this summer where his first team chances are limited by current incumbent goalkeeper, Diego Alves. Valencia are looking to fund a move for Manchester City loanee, Eliaquim Mangala so may be willing to sell their reserve ‘keeper who is currently on loan at Racing Genk.
Ryan’s ability as a keeper was first noted at Club Brugge where he played 102 matches for the Belgian club and his superb performances began to attract top clubs such as Liverpool who sent scouts to watch him. Ryan kept 37 clean sheets in 102 games and established his reputation as one of the top young ‘keepers in Europe. Ryan won the Belgian Cup with Brugge in 2015 and then moved to Valencia for just over £5m, but his playing time has been limited at Los Che.
Ryan is 6ft ½ and passes well from the back as well as being a good shot stopper. He is currently limited to playing European matches right now with Genk who have reached the quarter finals of the Europa League where they face Celta Vigo.
Villa’s last Australian goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, is still held in high regard by many fans and it would be good to see another Aussie keeper join the ranks alongside fellow countrymen Mile Jedinak and Jordan Lyden.
Charlton’s 19-year-old centre back was this week rewarded for an outstanding season at Charlton with a call up to England’s U-20 squad. Charlton have earned a reputation for producing talented youngsters in recent seasons such as Ademola Lookman, Joe Gomez and Jordan Cousins, and Ezri Konsa is the next talent to attract admiration from clubs in the Premier league having played 28 senior games for the Addicks.
Charlton manager Karl Robinson recently described Konsa as “from another planet” and Robinson is interestingly the same manager who predicted that Dele Alli would achieve greatness when playing under him at MK Dons.
Steve Bruce has experimented with his centre back partnerships this season and has seemed dissatisfied at times with their performances. Bruce has a good eye for a centre back having brought James Chester and Harry Maguire to Hull City. In the January transfer window, Villa moved to bring Jacob Bedeau to the club from Bury but Bedeau’s first team experience is limited compared to Konsa. It is possible that Bedeau may well be loaned out next season.
Similarly to Bedeau and James Bree, Konsa is being eyed by big clubs and Villa may need to be their most persuasive to land the young defender ahead of other clubs.
Roberto Martinez was a fan of Ledson and hoped that the box-to-box midfielder would become a future first team player for Everton. Ledson made his debut for Everton in the Europa League as a 17-year-old against Krasnodar, but his chances of first team football were weakened when other youngsters at the club such as Tom Davies, Liam Walsh and Kieran Dowell moved ahead of him.
Everton are currently stacked with a good generation of young players and David Unsworth’s U-23 side are leading the Premier League 2, Division 1 title by five points ahead of Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that Ledson took a different route in his football career by choosing to join Oxford United last summer. Ledson has enjoyed an impressive season at the U’s and was honoured with the EFL’s Young Footballer of the Month award for February 2017.
Steve Bruce is perhaps lacking a rotation central midfield option who can offer the same dynamic qualities as Conor Hourihane and Henri Lansbury. Mile Jedinak and Ashley Westwood proved not to be the most athletic pairing earlier in the season whilst Gary Gardner and Jordan Lyden have suffered various injury problems. In addition, it is likely that Leandro Bacuna will move on having failed to establish himself at either right-back or central midfield.
Ledson would be a welcome addition to Villa’s hard-working and evolving midfield which will require more dynamism next season if Bruce intends to continue playing a 4-4-2 formation.
Lille have appointed Marcelo Bielsa as their first team coach for the 2017/18 season and it is expected that the virtuoso coach will make changes to the playing squad. What this means for Benzia is unclear at this stage and it may well be that he could become available.
The 22-year-old French striker moved to Lille from Lyon in 2015 for £1m and has played through all the age groups for France. He was once thought to have the potential to establish himself as a first team player at Lyon and the player hoped to follow in the footsteps of his idol growing up, former Les Gones striker Karim Benzema.
Benzia played in Lyon’s academy at the same time as Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and Alassane Plea (current top scorer for Nice) but was unable to establish himself in the Lyon first team under Hubert Fournier.
Benzia is a versatile player who can play as an attacking midfielder, on the right wing or as a striker. He has the technical ability to help link an attack together and has the potential to improve in value over the next few years.
If Bruce is determined to play with two strikers next season then he will need four strikers in the squad, particularly given Scott Hogan’s injury record. Benzia would be a good signing for a club like Villa who are looking to sign players in the top of Championship / lower Premier League level of ability range.
One criticism of the Aston Villa side this season has been the predictability of the attacking play. Jordan Ayew was perhaps the most likely player to provide a spark in the attacking third until he left the club to join Swansea in the January transfer window.
Bruce will undoubtedly look to bring in a quality loan player having bemoaned Villa’s failure to capitalise on the loan market and it will be interesting to see who he goes for in the summer. Successful loans in the Championship are arguably now more likely to make an impression on Premier League clubs following the recent success of Championship players like Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
The loan player I would most like Steve Bruce to go for is Chelsea’s Bertrand Traore. Traore is an explosive player who can play in wide positions or up front. His main attribute is his dribbling ability and a willingness to find himself in shooting positions. The 21-year-old Chelsea attacker has played in Holland for Vitesse and this season with Ajax. Traore remained at Chelsea during the club’s relegation threatened 2015/16 season and saw limited playing time as a result, at one time being considered by Mourinho to play in the left-back position.
Mourinho is a big fan of Traore and called him, “one of the best talents of his age” in 2013 after Traore impressed in pre season games with Chelsea’s senior squad. Things haven’t gone quite so well at Ajax this season as in his previous seasons with Vitesse and Traore may decide to try a different league next year. Villa should try to position themselves at the top of the queue for his services if Antonio Conte decides to loan the player out again.
Follow Shelley on Twitter at @ShelleyOzzy