The astonishing Aston Villa swap deal that might make more sense than you think

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Aston Villa are reportedly close to agreeing a stunning three-way swap deal with Juventus for Douglas Luiz - but is it a good deal for the club?

It’s a deal that will look like either genius or madness in the near future – as widely reported on Tuesday evening, Aston Villa are close to agreeing a three-way swap deal with Juventus that will see star midfielder Douglas Luiz head to Turin in return for €20m (£17m), former Leeds United loanee Weston McKennie and England Under-21 international Samuel Iling-Junior. It is a big gamble from Villa, albeit one that may be necessary – but what are the chances that it works out?

Aston Villa are one of several teams who are reportedly in a position where they have to sell players by 30 June to avoid falling afoul of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules (PSR), and with the Brazil international one of their most coveted players he was always likely be to up for sale, especially with just two years left on his contract at Villa Park. In return, Villa get a buffer against a points deduction and a package worth (using Transfermarkt’s admittedly unreliable price points) a little over €60m (£50m).

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On the face of it, that’s a better deal for Juventus than it is for Villa. Luiz was among the best midfielders in the Premier League last season and some of the earlier reports linking Arsenal with a bid for his services had them paying considerably more than £50m. The fact that Villa’s need to sell quickly was public knowledge put them in a weaker negotiating position, however, and so it is that they’re preparing to settle for a cash-plus-players deal. The question is whether those players will make up for the loss of the single most influential player Unai Emery had.

American international McKennie is the closest thing to a ‘straight swap’ in the deal. Like Luiz, he primarily plays as a central midfielder, but in his case as a rather more defensively-minded player who can also operate on the right flank if required. Premier League fans may recall his disappointing loan spell at Elland Road two seasons ago, when he struggled for consistency and form in a team which was eventually relegated.

McKennie certainly won’t replace Luiz’s creativity and attacking threat. McKennie is a considerably weaker passer and where Luiz was developing into a dangerous player in front of goal with 15 Premier League goals in the past two seasons (four from the penalty spot), McKennie has managed just one league goal in the same time frame. Luiz scores more and generates more passes, and McKennie should not be seen as a direct replacement.

But there are areas in which he has the edge over the talismanic Brazilian. He’s faster and seemingly stronger, able to carry the ball better and can offer a more direct attacking outlet – and while he’s no goalscorer, he still managed seven assists in the 2023/24 Serie A season from 34 games, which is more than Luiz offered up despite creating more shooting chances.

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He’s also a slightly better defensive option, making as many tackles and interceptions as Luiz but winning 63% of his one-on-one duels in midfield compared to 47% for Luiz – and he’s a fine defender in set-piece situations who wins a healthy number of battles in the air. McKennie will offer a bit of extra defensive rigidity and the capacity to break the lines and create goals for those around him.

But he won’t replicate Luiz’s all-round game, and that will create a hole in Villa’s midfield that needs to be filled – either by a new signing after the new PSR year starts on 1 July, or by Jalen Ramsey. If he can step up and take on Luiz’s mantle next year, Villa may not need to worry about a replacement after all.

Samuel Iling-Junior, meanwhile, is a different kind of player altogether. An old-fashioned left-footed left winger (who mostly played as reserve left wing-back in a Juventus system which didn’t entirely suit him), his game is simple, effective and entertaining – he sprints like hell down the byline, beats his man, and gets his cross away. He could be argued as being one-dimensional and even something of a Nineties 4-4-2 throwback, but he’s also pretty good at his job.

The 20-year-old, who was born in Islington and has five caps (and two goals) for England Under-21s, came through the academy system at Chelsea before moving to Turin in 2020, breaking into the first-team reckoning last season. Several Premier League sides have been linked with a move for him since and it’s easy to see why – he’s a superb dribbler with genuine pace, a good delivery and the ability to find and exploit space down the wings.

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He’s also an extremely hard-working player off the ball who makes a lot of tackles and clearances, and while left wing isn’t necessarily an area of immediate concern for Villa given the form of John McGinn and Morgan Rogers, he offers added competition and plenty of potential for the future. He probably wouldn’t be an immediate starter at Villa Park any more than he was with Juventus, but he can score and supply goals at the top level already and would give Emery more options as he juggles domestic and continental football next season. His signing might also give Emery the option to move McGinn into the middle as another possible way to replace Luiz.

The upshot of all of this is that the ceiling on this deal is pretty high. Neither player arriving is as good as Luiz, but they are getting two players who pad out the squad in such a way that things can be rearranged in a satisfactory manner. With a first Champions League campaign in four decades on the horizon, the squad depth McKennie and Iling-Junior would offer will be important, and there is enough quality to ensure that Villa can find ways to build a team which can produce just as much overall as a team with Luiz in it – even if no individual member of the side is necessarily quite as good.

Pound for pound, it’s easy to argue that Juventus are getting the best deal on a spreadsheet and certainly they will get the single best player involved in the deal, likely by a fair distance - and Aston Villa are losing the single most important cog in Emery’s highly effective machine. But if McKennie can provide the kind of midfield solidity and drive that he is capable of and if Iling-Junior can maximise his talent, then this may end up looking like a very fair deal somewhere down the line, even if it will likely hurt in the short term. Besides, any deal which helps to dodge a points deduction is probably a good one. This may seem a strange move – but it might make more sense than may be suspected at first glance.

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