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Aston Villa could sign their own Goretzka in Mikel Merino

Aston Villa have identified robust Real Sociedad midfielder Mikel Merino as a transfer target, with head coach Unai Emery looking to add his compatriot’s flair to the Midlanders’ squad.

According to a recent report from Spanish publication AS, Villa are unwavering in their pursuit of the 26-year-old and have maintained their interest in him from earlier on in the season.

However, the Spaniard is considered to be comfortable within the Erreala setup, and a January swoop for the player is duly deemed unlikely considering the variables surrounding his availability.

Should Emery successfully manage to navigate his way around the Sociedad transfer department, though, he could capture one of the most dynamic and assured midfielders in the business, perhaps with motivation aligned with his compatriot’s own schemes to lift Villa back into European contention.

Merino was signed by his current club from Newcastle United in 2018 for just £10m, and his stature has grown ever since.

Having made 174 appearances for Sociedad, scoring 18 goals and providing 22 assists, the 26-year-old has truly asserted his position as one of the best midfielders to ply their trade in La Liga, with WhoScored displaying that the midfielder’s rating has not dropped below 7.00 across any competition for his club since the beginning of the 2019/20 campaign.

As per FBref, the all-encompassing playmaker ranks within the top 7% of midfielders for touches in the attacking penalty area and clearances, the top 1% for aerial duels won and the top 10% for assists among positional peers in Europe’s top five leagues in the last 12 months.

Former Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez once said of Merino: “He’s a midfielder with talent. He’s a good size, has quality on the ball & he’s very focused & professional.”

His offensive prowess from his deep-lying role would pay dividends for a Villa side looking to add dimensions to their offensive front. A new winger could be a priority, and the necessity to increase the quality in that department may be at the forefront of the reckoning, but with a midfield signing in the mould of Merino, there is no telling the heights which could be reached over the coming years.

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Bayern Munich‘s Leon Goretzka is the fourth most comparable player to Merino on FBref, and if Emery does indeed forge a move for the Spaniard, then he could wield a similarly fruitful influence to the Germany midfielder for the Bundesliga champions.

The 6 foot 2 Goretzka is a physical and formidable presence, an adept passer of the ball (82.1% passing accuracy this term) with an attack-focused mentality; this season alone, he has scored six goals and provided four assists from the heart of the thriving Bayern system.

With a reported release clause of £50m, acquiring Merino will not be an easy task. However, with the persistence of Emery in striving for world-class additions to bolster his squad and the tantalising prospect of playing under a manger notable for European success, the cogs might yet fall into place.