All things considered, finishing in the top half of the Premier League will mark progress for Aston Villa, especially considering how poorly things were looking in early November 2021, just before Dean Smith was ultimately sacked and Steven Gerrard was hired. After what had been an eventful summer, with Jack Grealish departing for £100 million to Manchester City, that cash was reinvested in several players without the desired effect.

While nobody can doubt that as a team, Villa has looked much better under the leadership of Gerrard, this is also a team that needs further investment in key areas. Recent performances and results have been somewhat frustrating, indicating that for the club to seriously push even higher next season, the gaffer will be looking for important reinforcements to help his cause.

Of course, there is no shortage of pundits and former players keen to provide their opinions. Following his own spell at Villa Park between 1998 and 2002, Paul Merson clearly retains a soft spot for his former club, making him feel able to identify potential targets they could look to sign in the summer.

In comments on Sky Sports highlighted at Birmingham Live, the two key areas Merson believes need strengthening are defence and midfield. “I would definitely say another centre-midfielder and a centre-back,” he opined, highlighting Southampton man James Ward-Prowse as the ideal target, who Villa actually showed interest in signing last summer

Merson insisted that what Villa currently lack is enough creativity in the middle of the park, someone “who can spray the ball around” with vision and creativity. Ward-Prowse is that man, although given the £25 million bid Villa made last year was rebuffed, with Southampton seeking double that sum, it seems a blockbuster bid would be required to land the 27-year-old midfielder.

If the need for a creative technician in midfield is one area to be strengthened, current boss Gerrard seems more inclined to look for a destroyer in the middle of the pitch, someone who can break down rival moves as the rest of his team seeks to break forward. Top of the shopping list for such a role is Leeds United player Kalvin Phillips, according to the Telegraph via HITC, who believe he would be the ideal fit for Villa.

Nevertheless, having excelled for England and Leeds over the last couple of years, there will certainly be no shortage of potential suitors chasing the signature of Phillips, especially given the 26-year-old appears to be reaching the peak of his footballing career. Manchester United and Liverpool have both been strongly linked, which means that Aston Villa would face an almighty challenge if Gerrard is to get his ideal defensive midfield target.

Were both rival clubs to make serious moves for Phillips, it seems unlikely that Villa would be amongst the first options the player would choose. Manchester United look set for a massive overhaul in the summer, once they announce the next manager, while Liverpool are still in the hunt for silverware. Klopp’s men could yet pip Manchester City to the Premier League title based on their consistent form.

Heading into the final stretch of games, the 2021-22 season may still have plenty of twists and turns as teams jostle for position. Of course, the better Aston Villa can perform towards the end of the season, the higher the chances of keeping players like Philippe Coutinho and attracting other top stars. To cut through the noise of the online betting world, before backing upcoming matches, SBO has reviewed the best bookies.

But are Villa worth backing to clinch themselves a spot in the top half of the table? After three consecutive Premier League defeats, the wheels appear to have fallen off somewhat for Gerrard and the team. Instead of making a late push for Europe, it seems Villa fans will have to settle for mid-table obscurity this term, although that can still be viewed as positive progress considering the pieces Gerrard needed to pick up when he arrived.

Hopefully, with the right amount of backing in the transfer market, Gerrard will get all the key components he needs to assemble a genuinely competitive team. One that can push towards finishing in the top six of the Premier League, and maybe mount serious runs in the EFL Cup or the FA Cup, as the hunger for silverware continues to grow amongst fans. After all, it has been quite a while since we toasted a team returning from Wembley with a trophy.


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