Aston Villa have enjoyed a strong turnaround this year under Steve Bruce, which has seen the club swiftly move on from a tough start in the league campaign to move as high as second in the table after match-day 32.
The opening few weeks of the season saw Villa sitting in 18th yet, having clawed their way back up the table, the Villans look set to fight for promotion to England’s top flight via the play-offs.
Promotion would be a huge achievement for Bruce and his men and the Premier League would undoubtedly welcome a return for the English giants.
Should the Lions find their way back into the top flight, there will be a number of youngsters hoping to make their mark on the first-team, with the added incentive of establishing themselves as rising Premier League stars.
With the season drawing to a close, we take a look at three individuals who should be watched closely as they bid for a regular spot in the Villa first-team.
Aged only 19, Andre Green has already played nearly 20 games for the Villans. Making his debut back in 2015/2016, the teenager has already experienced the Premier League stage and will be itching at the prospect of a return to the top flight.
A highly-rated winger, Green has represented England at every youth level from under-16 to under-20, where he is currently still a squad member.
The 19-year-old has previously drawn a lot of attention from Premier League clubs interested in his signature but, in spite of this, Green has since opted to sign a long-term deal at the Midlands club.
Like Jack Grealish, Green should quickly become a fan favourite with increased first-team exposure as a graduate of the club’s academy.
With a strong pre-season under his belt this summer, the winger has every chance of making it into Steve Bruce’s plans for the seasons to come.
England under-20 forward Keinan Davis has enjoyed a decent season with Villa this year, making around 15 appearances so far and bagging a couple of goals along the way.
At 6ft 3in, the 20-year-old is a frightening prospect for central defenders, and could be a useful weapon for Bruce against the strong defences boasted by Premier League sides.
Davis is clearly rated by Bruce if his game time this season is anything to go by, and the manager will be hoping his young forward can kick on and build on his experience gained during the current campaign.
With loan forward Lewis Grabban likely to return to parent club Bournemouth at the end of the season, a vacancy should open up for Davis to make his own.
English right-back James Bree will be hoping to continue his development by learning from senior full-back Ahmed Elmohamady, while maintaining hopes of overtaking the Egyptian star as the club’s first choice in his position.
Bree, 20, joined Villa after three successful seasons with Barnsley, and has made seven league appearances under Bruce this term.
With Elmohamady turning 31 next season, Bree should have an increased chance of playing time, especially if the club returns to the top flight.
Having brought the youngster to the club, Bree is clearly the plan in terms of the right-back for the future, and will continue to be eased into the starting XI.
After shining for the development side this season, it would be unsurprising to see Bree line up as a first-team regular next term at Villa Park.
After finally starting first Aston Villa game, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy must take chance
Aston Villa will hope Hepburn-Murphy can thrive at Villa Park.
Aston Villa faced Yeovil in the League Cup this week. A solitary goal from Conor Hourihane gave the Championship side the win and advancement to the second round. It was also a game which saw Steve Bruce give a chance to several young talents.
One such player was forward Rushian Hepburn-Murphy. The 19-year-old may have made his debut under Tim Sherwood way back in 2015, but this was actually his first start for his hometown club.
Hepburn-Murphy has been in and around the first-team for some time. His goalscoring record with the development team is a testament to his talents and Aston Villa fans are backing him for success.
He currently has a chance in the first-team and, he needs to take it now.
With Scott Hogan injured and Aston Villa not making big transfer moves so far this summer, suddenly Hepburn-Murphy has a chance to cement his place in the first-team picture.
The teenager, who has had to battle injury trouble in recent seasons, has the perfect opportunity in his hands. He worked tirelessly against Yeovil and that will put him in good stead. But a goal or two would get that monkey off his back and have Aston Villa fans calling for him to remain in Bruce’s plans.
Aston Villa’s hopes of getting Isaac Success now look doomed
The Nigerian forward has been included in the Watford squad for the season and even featured on the opening day of the season.
The Premier League transfer window may be closed, but teams in the Championship can still make crucial additions. Aston Villa are still playing catch-up from their early summer financial issues and, therefore, could be active in the final two weeks they have.
One player that has been linked with a move to Villa Park is Watford attacker Isaac Success. As reported by TEAMtalk, Aston Villa had made a move for the Nigerian striker. A forgotten man at Vicarage Road, he had once cost £12.5 million to bring to Hertfordshire. However, Success found little of his namesake at Vicarage Road and is now down the pecking order with the Hornets.
But it looks as though any hopes of Aston Villa signing Success are slim.
Watford named their Premier League squad this week for the upcoming campaign. At number nine in the list, sits Success.
Watford failed in attempts to bring in another striker during the Premier League transfer window. With only Troy Deeney and Andre Gray ahead of him and Stefano Okaka and Adalberto Penaranda linked with moves abroad before the end of the month, Success is likely to stay.
Aston Villa will have to look elsewhere if they are going to find themselves a new striker for the season.
One to Watch: Jack Grealish proves Aston Villa worth in victory over Wigan
The 22-year-old has shown maturity far beyond his age.
Jack Grealish saw his name float amongst the tabloids throughout the summer’s transfer window, where he was widely linked with a Premier League switch.
The England U21 international developed into one of the finest players outside of the top-flight last season and the general consensus is that the very top of the game is calling the 22-year-old, though he’s focused on Villa’s promotion push for now.
Tottenham Hotspur were the biggest suitors for Grealish in the summer, seeing a £25m bid rejected, and the club’s valuation of the midfielder was proven to be correct as he shone during a gloomy afternoon in the Midlands on Saturday.
Here, just days after the window slammed shut to end any chance of a move to the Premier League, Grealish got his head down and worked his socks off in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Wigan – looking bright on the ball and earning an electric reception from the home faithful.
It is little surprise that Villa want at least £30m for the midfield star and the reality is that a price in that region would still be a snip in the modern window for a player of Grealish’s capability – as identified by boss Steve Bruce.
“He reproduced the form that he produced last year that made him into a £30m footballer and he looked it today, every penny a £30m footballer. For me, he was head and shoulders above anyone else on the pitch. That’s how good he was.”
Bruce has proven to be a father figure in football for the midfielder, quickly putting his arm around Grealish after the final whistle following a game where Grealish was kicked from pillar to post by Wigan, doing well not to react.
It will be a tough test for Villa and Grealish this season, with Bruce’s side picked amongst the favourites to earn a return to the Premier League, with anything less being considered a failure, and Grealish expected to be the player that leads the charge to promotion.
In other campaigns that may have proven to be a concern but Grealish has shown an incredible amount of maturity in the recent months, choosing to focus on his football rather than get drawn into the lengthy sagas that emerge in the transfer market.
It wouldn’t have been surprising, perhaps even understood, if Grealish handed in a transfer request to seal a move to Tottenham, where he would become another England ace under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino – potentially even have the chance to push into Gareth Southgate’s squad.
It’s the sort of situation that has been witnessed time and time before. Player’s head is turned, a player pushes for transfer, a transfer is completed – but the old saying that the grass is not always greener elsewhere would have likely to be proven true.
At Spurs, Grealish would not have been guaranteed first-team football every week, he would not have been a star man and would simply have been a member of Pochettino’s supporting cast – a polar opposite to where he stands at Villa.
Having the maturity to shun all the transfer talk, put his head down and show a performance like he did against Wigan proves once again that Grealish has all the capabilities to go right to the top. Staying at Villa was certainly the right decision and the young talent looks focused, determined and full of flair.
As he said just hours after the transfer window closed on Thursday, it’s time to get to work – and Grealish has hit the ground running.
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