It’s back to business at Bodymoor Heath this afternoon as Aston Villa return to pre-season training after a six-week summer break ahead of the upcoming 2021/22 campaign.
Dean Smith and his coaching staff will have around 18 first-team players to work with this week while the likes of Jack Grealish, Tyrone Mings, Emi Martinez and Douglas Luiz remain absent due to their involvement at the Euros and Copa America with England, Brazil and Argentina all in semi-final action.
The returning Conor Hourihane will be back next week (July 12) after his season finished a week later than Villa’s due to his involvement for Swansea in their play-off final defeat to Brentford at Wembley on May 29.
It’s understood that Scotland’s John McGinn and Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic have also been given additional time off due to their involvement at the Euros.
Egyptian winger Trezeguet remains injured after rupturing his ACL back in April while fellow winger Bertrand Traore is back on the mend after undergoing groin surgery just three weeks ago. French midfielder Morgan Sanson is back after his knee issue last term while Marvelous Nakamba has decided to focus on returning to full fitness at Aston Villa rather than represent Zimbabwe in three upcoming COSAFA Cup fixtures this week.
With head coach Smith returning to his office at Bodymoor Heath, we take a look at what’s in his in-tray as the hard work starts from now until the season-opener at Watford in just 40 days’ time on August 14:
Assessing the loanees…
Hourihane, Frederic Guilbert and Kalinic are all due to return to training as their Villa futures remain up in the air ahead of the new season.
As we know, Smith was reluctant to lose Hourihane last season before the Irishman forced his loan move to Swansea. As for Guilbert, the right-back eventually went to Strasbourg after being knocked down to third choice while Kalinic was loaned to Hadjuk Split where he became captain.
Decisions will be made on all three of last season’s loanees with Guilbert most-likely to stick around as cover for Matty Cash at right-back. Hourihane, 30, has already hinted at a fresh challenge elsewhere while Kalinic will be allowed to leave but only if Villa sign a new goalkeeper following Tom Heaton’s exit to Manchester United.
Villa’s goalkeeping department is thin at present with No.1 Martinez backed up by Jed Steer and, at present, Kalinic. Smith will want to go into the season with three solid goalkeepers to choose from as the club fights on three fronts in the Premier League, Carabao Cup and FA Cup.
…And the young guns
As Smith pointed out at the back-end of last season, Villa will promote a string of their under-18 players to first-team sessions over the next few weeks.
Jacob Ramsey, Carney Chukwuemeka and Jaden Philogene-Bidace were all rewarded with their Premier League debuts last season and there could be more to follow this term with the likes of Kaine Kesler, Aaron Ramsey, Louie Barry and others all poised to step up.
Villa’s senior crop of academy players – the likes of Tyreik Wright, Viljami Sinisalo and Mungo Bridge – will also be heavily involved during the early few weeks of pre-season with Smith set to make a decision on who to keep around ahead of the new campaign.
BirminghamLive understands that Chukwuemeka and striker Barry are to remain at Villa with the vast majority of Villa’s talented crop of kids to be loaned out under the stewardship of new loan development coach, Mile Jedinak.
Tests, tests and more tests
Villa’s new state-of-the-art performance centre will be a hive of activity this week as players will undergo a series of fitness tests. Villa’s ever-expanding performance department, headed up by director Jeremy Oliver, will check in with the players to see where they’re at fitness-wise after six weeks off.
The likes of Kortney Hause, Matty Cash, Anwar El Ghazi and others have done some extra sessions to burn off any excess weight ahead of returning to pre-season but the first few days will consist of recording body fat percentages, bleep tests and ECG scans on their hearts after the traumatic cardiac arrest suffered by Christian Erisken at the Euros.
After that there will be some light training sessions put on by John Terry, Craig Shakespeare and Richard O’Kelly as the players get back into the swing of things before it all steps up a notch ahead of the first pre-season game at Walsall in just over a fortnight.
How’s Wesley looking?
On the topic of tests, Smith will have a keen eye on where Wesley’s at in terms of his physicality after such a long layoff following his horrific knee ligament injury more than 18 months ago.
The Brazilian returned against West Brom in April before coming on against Manchester United and Crystal Palace two months ago. Villa aren’t in the market for a striker at present but that could well change should Wesley struggle over pre-season as he looks to get to grips with the demands expected of him as a Premier League performer once again.
Wesley, 24, will be given every opportunity to impress over the summer weeks as the forward looks to push and challenge for Ollie Watkins’ starting shirt. Supporters, Smith et al will soon find out if Wesley can return to the levels that warranted a £22 million fee two summers ago.
Sporting director Johan Lange, CEO Christian Purslow and Smith will all meet up this week to iron out the final few weeks of the transfer window.
Villa remain hot on Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe with the 20-year-old Smith’s top target now after the additions of Emi Buendia and Ashley Young.
Villa have been knocked back with two bids and are expected to continue to up the ante hoping to tempt Arsenal to cash in on what would be another club-record deal for Villa. The Gunners, though, remain optimistic Smith Rowe will sign a new long-term contract.
As for Villa’s stance, Lange has been encouraged after talks with Smith Rowe’s representatives with the player said to be ‘blown away’ by Villa’s interest in him. Ultimately, it’ll be Smith Rowe’s decision with the England under-21 star set for face-to-face talks with Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta in the coming days.
Elsewhere, Smith wants a new right-sided centre-back after the flash sale of Bjorn Engels to Royal Antwerp while a holding midfielder remains high on Smith’s wish-list.
It’s been almost a fortnight since those premature reports came out signalling Man City’s intent to sign Grealish for £100 million.
According to some, that deal was all done and dusted but BirminghamLive can explain that such reports were simply untrue.
Grealish’s future will be ironed out after his involvement at the Euros this week. The captain has a new contract waiting for him which will take his salary to a reported £150,000-a-week, making him Villa’s best-ever paid player.
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There’s been no talks with City, nor has Grealish spoken of his future with his focus solely on helping England to win the Euros.
BirminghamLive expects Grealish, 25, to stay as it stands as co-owners Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, Purslow and Smith prepare to put on the charm offensive once again.
It’s a precarious position at present with Grealish set to make his decision whilst on holiday next week. Villa, though, hold the aces here with Sawiris and Edens remaining adamant Grealish will lead Aston Villa into a new dawn of European football.
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