Transfer Talk: Top January targets for Emery to turn Villa into thrillers
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Cian Cheesbrough
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France forward Marcus Thuram has been linked with a move to Aston Villa
France forward Marcus Thuram has been linked with a move to Aston Villa

Aston Villa have high hopes for Unai Emery as their new manager and their ambitious owners are sure to back him in the January transfer window.

The former Villarreal boss, 51, won his first two Premier League games in charge before the World Cup break, helping the Villans steer away from danger and into 12th.

Despite an overall disappointing campaign so far, breaking into the top half still seems well within their reach in the second half of the season, but Emery will know reinforcements could be essential.

We look at the areas he will aim to strengthen next month.

Pace problems

Villa have plenty of technically-gifted attackers at the front end of the field, but not many who can beat a man with sheer pace.

Emery's predecessor Steven Gerrard favoured two narrow No10s in attack rather than wingers, leaving the impressive Leon Bailey as the only out-and-out wide man at the club.

Villa chiefs reportedly agreed a fee for Watford talisman Ismaila Sarr last summer, only for Gerrard to block the deal — it would be no surprise to see them go back in for the Senegalese star in January.

Borussia Monchengladbach winger Marcus Thuram — who is currently away with France at the World Cup — is another to be linked with a January switch to Villa Park. 

A shock approach for Real Madrid and ex-Chelsea maestro Eden Hazard is also circulating, while Villarreal pair Samuel Chukwueze and Arnaut Danjuma are sure to be at the back of Emery’s mind.

Marcus Thuram is excelling in the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach
Marcus Thuram is excelling in the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach

Firepower up front

Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings are Villa’s current striking options for the second half of the campaign, with the jury still out on the pair.

Watkins has been the favoured option this term but with only two league goals, doubts remain over his ability to find the net consistently.

Ings possesses the natural finishing ability that Watkins lacks — showcasing that with a match-winning brace at Brighton — but the 30-year-old does not provide the pressing and off-the-ball runs his team-mate does.

That has seen the West Midlanders linked to plenty of strikers, with a host of names to get fans excited about.

A reunion with Roma No9 Tammy Abraham — who scored 26 goals for Villa during their promotion season from the Championship in 2018-19 — could reportedly be on the cards.

More recently, Spanish media say Emery’s men have emerged as surprise frontrunners for Portugal and Atletico Madrid star Joao Felix.

Tammy Abraham scored 26 goals on loan as Aston Villa won promotion to the Premier League in 2018-19
Tammy Abraham scored 26 goals on loan as Aston Villa won promotion to the Premier League in 2018-19

Taking the Mikel

The likes of Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and Leander Dendoncker mean Villa have plenty of high-quality options in the deep-lying area of midfield, but Emery reportedly is keen to add another to the mix.

Spain international Mikel Merino, 26, was once a Borussia Dortmund and Newcastle flop, but it is since returning to his homeland with Real Sociedad in 2018 that his stock has really risen.

A physically imposing defensive midfielder, Merino would undoubtedly shore up Villa’s inconsistent form in the centre of the park, while he is also more than capable of contributing in the attacking third.

He has 18 goals and 22 assists in 173 appearances for the Basque side, while no LaLiga player has provided more assists than Merino’s six this term.

It seems he would be an excellent addition to Villa’s ranks but it remains to be seen if their wealthy owners are willing to fork out £55million to match his price tag. 

Mikel Merino is one of LaLiga's brightest midfielders
Mikel Merino is one of LaLiga's brightest midfielders

Reinforcements at the back

Former boss Gerrard splashed out £26m last summer to bring centre-back Diego Carlos to the club, only for the Brazilian to rupture his Achilles in his first home game.

While Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa have performed well in his absence, reports suggest Emery could attempt a statement move for Villarreal defender and Spain international Pau Torres.

Matty Cash has proven himself as a capable Premier League full-back, but he is lacking any real competition to really raise his levels in the position currently.

Villa are among the clubs linked with Real Madrid defender Nacho, 32, whose versatility would solve their issues in both the centre of defence and at full-back.

Meanwhile, Robin Olsen’s horror show in the Carabao Cup defeat to Manchester United last month is set to see Villa seek a back-up to Emiliano Martinez in goal — with Morocco World Cup hero Yassine Bounou an ambitious target to try and lure away from Sevilla.

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