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Ambitious Aston Villa raising expectation levels

Aston Villa sealed their third signing of the summer with the capture of Bayer Leverkusen winger Moussa Diaby, as Unai Emery quietly continues to put together an impressive squad ahead of the new season.

Much of the attention in the summer transfer window so far has been focused on the interest from Saudi Arabian clubs in a host of leading European stars.

Meanwhile, the likes of Declan Rice's £105million move from West Ham to Arsenal and Manchester United's purchase of goalkeeper Andre Onana from Inter Milan have also been in the headlines.

Impressive summer transfers so far

Villa's summer transfer dealings have gone somewhat under the radar with Diaby joining Pau Torres and Youri Tielemans in making the switch to the West Midlands.

After they finished last season superbly to end up in seventh place, there is rising optimism that Villa could now improve upon that in 2023-24 and it is even being suggested a top-four finish in the Premier League is not out of the question.

A title challenge looks unrealistic, with Emery's side 150/1 to be crowned shock Premier League champions in the upcoming campaign, but they are much shorter at 3/1 to finish in the top six and available at 8/1 to secure a top-four berth.

Certainly, their summer signings so far look to have significantly improved a squad that already had a good deal of talent in it.

Tielemans, who joined on a free transfer from relegated Leicester City, is an experienced top-flight midfielder who has 151 Premier League appearances under his belt, scoring 21 goals.

He should add bite and creativity, while Torres is a Spain international with 23 caps who has proven to be a calm and composed centre-back for Villarreal and, at 26 years of age, is about to enter his peak.

Diaby caught the eye in Bundesliga

The addition of Diaby is arguably even more exciting, though.

It has been reported the Midlanders have broken their transfer record to land the 24-year-old for just under £52m and they are gaining a player who was a big threat in the final third in the Bundesliga for Leverkusen.

Diaby registered 49 goals and 48 assists from 173 games for the German club and he's a rising star for World Cup runners-up France too, having collected 10 caps for his country so far.

Emery is well aware of Diaby's ability as the winger was part of the Paris Saint-Germain academy when he was the first-team boss there and the Frenchman's pace and versatility mark him out as a player likely to thrive in the English top-flight.

Villa do have European football on the agenda this season for the first time since 2011, as that seventh-place finish earned them a spot in the Europa Conference League play-off round.

Presuming they qualify for the group stage, fighting for another European place in the new season alongside the rigours of Thursday night football in the continent's third-tier competition will be demanding.

Emery may opt to field more of his fringe and young players in Europe, with the priority likely to be maintaining their upward trajectory in the Premier League.

Progress under experienced Emery

It's incredible to think Villa looked to be heading for a relegation fight under previous manager Steven Gerrard early on last season.

Gerrard's side won just two of their first 11 games and were down in 16th place, just a point above the bottom three, when the Liverpool legend was sacked and Emery was brought in from Villarreal.

The 51-year-old has had a big impact at Villa Park. Emery has won 15 of the 25 Premier League games he has been in charge of and their fine end-of-season form, particularly at home, underlined the rapid progress being made under the Spaniard.

The 3-0 win against Newcastle United on 15th April was Villa's fifth Premier League win in a row - the first time they had managed that since 1998.

Meanwhile, the home win over Brighton on the last day of the season was their seventh consecutive Villa Park success, matching a record from the 1992-93 campaign.

If they are to finish in the top six, or even the top four in 2023-24, Villa will have to deliver similar results, but if they get off to a good start and build momentum, then challenging for the Champions League places may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

A tough opening-weekend fixture at Newcastle , who secured an unexpected top-four place themselves last season, awaits on 12th August.

Should Villa come away from St James' Park with all three points then expectation levels for the campaign are likely to rise even further.

Villa are 4/1 to beat Newcastle, the Magpies are 4/6 and the draw is 11/4.

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