Heading into the last few months of the season, Aston Villa’s Premier League status for the 2020-21 campaign remains in the balance.
Recent wins over relegation rivals Burnley and Watford have lifted Villa out of the drop zone but the battle to stay in the Premier League seems set to go right down to the wire.
Jack Grealish’s form has been a huge plus point for Villa – the captain has scored seven Premier League goals – though injuries to Wesley and Tom Heaton have been damaging.
It is all to play for in the games to come for Dean Smith’s side, but how are Villa shaping up for next season?
Another summer of high squad turnover?
After promotion to the Premier League, Smith and his staff were completely ruthless.
No fewer than eight players were released at the end of their contracts with Glenn Whelan, Albert Adomah, Tommy Elphick and Mile Jedinak among them.
While it was not a surprise to see players such as Micah Richards and Mark Bunn let go, it was clear Villa were determined to undergo a total rebuild of their squad.
The high investment that was made in Smith’s side should mean there is no need to be quite as radical at the end of the season and most of the squad should remain in place this time.
No key players are out of contract this time – James Chester might be the biggest name to depart – but Villa will be primed for interest in star man Grealish, who has forced his way into contention to be selected by England for Euro 2020. He will surely get his first cap in March.
Grealish is already having the most prolific season of his career, having scored in three of Villa’s Premier League wins, and he is taking more responsibility in the attack in Wesley’s absence. Grealish has also provided five assists in the league, the same as Liverpool star Mo Salah.
The 24-year-old has been linked with Manchester United and he certainly fits the profile of their recent signings as he is young, talented and British with potential to improve even more.
It has been suggested Chelsea could also hold an interest in the Birmingham-born playmaker and Villa’s chances of holding on to their prize asset may depend on whether they survive.
It has been claimed Grealish could be worth as much as £70 million to Villa so, if he was to be sold, Smith would have the chance to invest that cash to improve weaknesses in his squad.
Would Villa bounce straight back?
Even if Villa were relegated, they would seem to be in good shape to be promoted again.
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Signing a player like Tom Heaton has added experience to the squad, though he is out for the rest of this season. Assuming Pepe Reina does not sign on a permanent basis, Heaton will return to the team for the 2020-21 season and he has been promoted twice with Burnley.
Heaton was also the Clarets’ captain and he provides leadership skills that would be crucial were Villa to drop back down into the Championship for next season.
As well as Grealish, Tyrone Mings would likely attract a lot of interest from Premier League clubs if Villa were relegated. Villa paid about £20 million for Mings, but he has been a bargain.
Mings has been capped by England and is also said to be on Manchester United’s radar as they continue to rebuild under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Losing Mings would be a major blow as, despite a couple of erratic performances, the defender has been one of the stars of the season for Villa.
Other than Grealish and Mings, Villa would likely be able to keep the majority of their squad for a season in the Championship, though they may have to repel interest in John McGinn as well.
Smith reducing the Villa squad’s average age
One of the keyways Villa have approached this season has been to cut the average age of the squad and they may look to do the same again whether they stay in the Premier League or not.
Players such as Ezri Konsa, Douglas Luiz, Wesley and Trezeguet are all at a great age to develop further and they would be vital cornerstones in a promotion push in the 2020-21 season.
In fact, Neil Taylor and Ahmed El Mohamady are the only outfielders aged 30 or over who play regularly for Smith’s side, with investment in youthful players having been Villa’s plan of late.
Should Villa slip to relegation – though they are in a good position to stay out of the bottom three – they would also be able to rely on parachute payments to bridge the financial gap.
Bouncing straight back from the Championship has been more difficult in recent years but clubs such as Burnley have shown it can be done at the first time of asking. Though this season has been tricky for Villa’s fellow Clarets, they are now almost established in the Premier League.
Following that blueprint could be the route to success for Villa and the club seems set for long-term success regardless of whether or not relegation proves to be a blip this season.
The future is certainly looking bright for Villa.