The city of Birmingham and surrounding areas in the Midlands of England aren’t short of soccer teams. But, of them all, there’s one club that’s having a phenomenal season and that’s Aston Villa.
They’ve been a Premier League stalwart for many years without ever really hitting the high notes. For example, last season they finished a respectable but unspectacular 14th in the league – safe from relegation but a long way from qualifying for the highly lucrative world of European football.
A miraculous season
But, as we approach the end of the 2022-23 Premier League season, Villa is now within touching distance of playing in Europe next year. To put this into context, the last time they succeeded there was in their 2001 Intertoto Cup win. Some 19 years earlier, in 1982, they also enjoyed even greater success by winning the European Cup, the equivalent of today’s Champions League.
While qualifying for the latter is probably a stretch too far for the moment, Villa will certainly have their sights set on the lesser competition, the Europa Cup.
What makes this all the more surprising is the turbulent and unsuccessful start that they had to the season. By the end of October 2022 their record was played 12, won 2, lost 7 and drew 3. It was a 3-0 defeat by Fulham on October 20th that sealed the fate of the then manager Steven Gerrard who was quickly replaced by Urai Emeri some ten days later.
Despite faltering at times, including an embarrassing exit from the FA Cup competition at the hands of Division 2 team Stevenage, Emeri has presided over some real success.
This has really come into focus from the end of February when the team started its longest unbeaten run for some time which, by the middle of April ,was still continuing with seven wins and a single draw on the score sheets. As a result the Premier League odds for Villa winning whenever they play are now among the lowest that they have ever been.
However, with European football now firmly within Villa’s sights, Emeri must be looking to bolster the squad over the summer’s closed season when most transfers take place.
Rumours already abound about a few players he might want to sign, but it seems like he will also face some daunting competition to achieve his aims with at least two of these three players.
One of Emeri’s first choices for a new signing is thought to be the Inter Milan striker Joaquin Correa.
Over the season, the Argentinian player has turned out for the Serie A team no less than 21 times but rarely features as part of the starting line-up.
It’s been generally agreed that the 28-year-old who only joined from Lazio this season has underperformed for Milan and, as he is only on a short-term loan contract, it’s highly likely that the Italian club will be willing to sell.
Even though they paid an estimated $35 million for the player they are said to only want $16 million for him now. This makes him a doubly appealing prospect as the feeling is very much that he has what it takes to shine in England, certainly if given more time on the pitch.
However, Everton are also said to be in the running to sign him, as are West Ham so a bidding war could soon commence.
Emeri faces an even bigger rival in his reported attempts to lure the Brighton player Kouru Mitoma to Villa Park next season.
That’s because this year’s Premier League champions in waiting, Arsenal, are also said to be very interested in signing the 25-year-old Japanese winger.
In particular, Emeri sees him as a potential replacement for Phillippe Coutinho who is expected to depart this summer. The leading goal scorer for the South-coast side is highly regarded so it could be a tough battle for the Villa manager to win. So, it may be a case of persuading the board to dig deep into their funds to secure his services.
A rather cheaper proposition is likely to be the Charlton Athletic player Miles Leaburn. It’s been the 19-year-old player’s first season with the club and, despite a lengthy layoff due to injury, he has impressed.
With 11 goals in 31 appearances his potential is clear, as is his ability to move up a division to Premier League play. Charlton manager Dean Holden has also intimated that he may well be open to an approach by Villa.
Of course, other teams will also be looking to sign the Villa players who have been behind the team’s success, so Emeri will be pleased that by mid-April star striker Ollie Watkins was on the verge of signing a new contract.
So if everything goes to plan 2023-24 could be an even more bumper season for Aston Villa, the like of which they’ve not enjoyed for some time.