Aston Villa are undergoing a reshuffle under the management of Unai Emery, who has been a beacon of optimism since arriving at the club in October after being prised away from Spanish La Liga outfit Villarreal.
According to Mundo Deportivo, the Midlands outfit are interested in a swoop for Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino, who has been a standout figure at the beating heart of his outfit, with technical director Johan Lange willing to pay the player’s €65m (£57m) release clause to clinch his signature.
This follows initial information from November, with the outlet reporting (via Sport Witness) that the 26-year-old could be enticed into joining the fold at Villa Park to link up with his countryman and enhance the Villans’ midfield with his dynamic skill set.
The recent report from Mundo Deportivo does state, however, that with Liverpool interested and circling like a shark, a prospective transfer might enter rocky territory with the allure and European promise of the Merseyside outfit potentially swinging the odds in manager Jurgen Klopp’s favour.
If Emery proves successful in his bid to clinch one of La Liga’s premier midfielders, it would not be the first time that he has graced Premier League soil, previously plying his trade for Newcastle United.
Signing for the Magpies in 2017 on a permanent deal from Borussia Dortmund as a 21-year-old, Merino arrived as a promising prospect and a potential leading playmaker in the division as he nurtured his abilities at St. James’ Park over the coming years.
Since that point, the midfielder full of “quality”, as once praised by former Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez, has become a leading figure for his side’s exploits, making 177 appearances and scoring 18 goals and 23 assists.
The hike in his market value is also a telling illustration of the superlative player that he has grown into; arriving in Spain, Merino was valued at £10.5m, but is now a player with a valuation of £44m.
As per FBref, the 26-year-old ranks within the top 8% of midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues for assists, the top 2% for aerials won and the top 8% for touches in the attacking penalty area.
And when assessing the most comparable players to the £37k-per-week ace, there is a semblance found between the “best player in La Liga‘s” arsenal – as dubbed by his Sociedad manager Imanol Alguacil – and Manchester United titan Casemiro.
The five-time Champions League winner Casemiro joined Erik ten Hag’s Manchester project in the summer for £70m after making 336 appearances for Los Blancos in one of football’s all-time great midfield triads.
Merino also boasts a rounded toolkit, recording an average rating of 7.26 this season, completing 76% of his passes and vigorously leaping into 2.6 tackles per outing of his own.
With such stellar similarities, and by observing the impact that the “monster” Casemiro – as once heralded by former Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane – has had on a formerly beleaguered United outfit, the question of Villa’s interest in the gem oozing class and quality has merely one answer; Emery must sign, Merino could spearhead the ascension to the tantalising prospect of a European finish at Villa Park.