Aston Villa whizz-kids destined to mark their mark in pre season

Steven Gerrard continues to cast his eye over Aston Villa’s stars of the future. The head coach handed Tim Iroegbunam his Premier League debut back in February while others – Tommi O’Reilly and Ben Chrisene – have been in Villa’s match day squads.

The 41-year-old enjoyed a stint at Melwood working with Liverpool’s under-18s and under-19s before stepping up into management with Rangers in 2018. Gerrard knows what it takes to step up from being an academy player to a first-team regular having done it at Anfield while, this season, Jacob Ramsay has excelled under the gaffer’s tutelage.

Ahead of what’s a pivotal pre-season, BirminghamLive picks out the next cabs off the rank, if you like, with Gerrard set to integrate Villa’s talented youngsters with new senior additions.

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Ben Chrisene

The 18-year-old has stepped up to make four of Villa’s Premier League squads since February and, with Lucas Digne out for a while with a collarbone injury, then there’s every chance the left-back could finally make his big-league bow.

Chrisene is approaching two years at Villa after academy manager Mark Harrison beat competition from Liverpool and Chelsea to land the teenager from Exeter in 2020. Villa fans will remember Chrisene from his brilliant goal in front of the Holte End to help win the FA Youth Cup last season.

Predominantly a left-back, there’s real scope for Chrisene to move into central midfield given his ability in possession. “We’re really excited to try to help him become a Premier League player,” Gerrard said of Chrisene who, this week, has continued to work with the first-team group back at Bodymoor Heath.

Jayden Barber

Like Chrisene, Barber’s been heavily involved in first-team training sessions in recent weeks. The 16-year-old stepped up to replace Kaine Kesler Hayden as a cover option in training following his loan to MK Dons.

Villa signed Barber from Fulham last summer and he’s continued to show real promise as an attacking wing-back having chalked up five assists from his 23 appearances at youth level this season. A quick and direct defender, Barber has recently played as a right-midfielder for England’s under-17s where he remains a constant fixture for manager Tom Curtis.

Josh Feney

Feeney, still just 16, has been a revelation since joining Villa from Fleetwood’s first team last summer. The centre-back, incredibly comfortable and calm in possession, made Gerrard’s first-team squad down at Brentford in January and, last week, played 45 minutes against the Bees alongside Kortney Hause in a friendly behind-closed-doors.

Feeney, who captains England’s under-17s, has a huge future in the game and will feature heavily for Villa when pre-season comes around.

Kerr Smith

Villa spent an initial £800,000 rising to £2million on the Scotland under-19 international back in January after a string of impressive showings for Dundee United’s first team. Smith, 17, is back in action after an injury and the plan now is to build him up ahead of the centre-back being heavily involved with the first-team over pre-season which could see him make an appearance in the early Carabao Cup rounds.

Tommy O’Reilly

“We really like his technical ability,” Gerrard said of the 18-year-old. “We feel, in the long run, that his style can help us but he needs to keep going and to keep learning.

“We’ll keep working with him and we’ll keep polishing him up. He’s still very slight in terms of his profile so we’ll work hard in the gym as well to get him ready from a physical point of view.”

O’Reilly, nicknamed ‘a little Phil Foden’, continues to travel with the first team and there’s every hope – with a bit of bulking-up work in the summer – that the teenager could carve out a really successful career at Villa as he looks to follow Ramsey’s footsteps.

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