Will Leander Dendoncker's pre-season performance decide his fate at Aston Villa?

Aston Villa v Hibernian - UEFA Conference League Qualifying Play-Offs: Second Leg
Aston Villa v Hibernian - UEFA Conference League Qualifying Play-Offs: Second Leg / Matthew Ashton - AMA/GettyImages

Leander Dendoncker has returned to Aston Villa for pre-season training after a brief loan spell at Napoli. The 29-year-old's presence at Bodymoor Heath could potentially provide a solution to Villa's midfield ahead of the 2024/25 season.

Dendoncker's return comes at a crucial time for Villa, as they prepare for life without Douglas Luiz, who recently joined Juventus, and with Boubacar Kamara still recovering from injury. The Belgian's defensive capabilities, which saw him rank in the top 3% of Premier League midfielders for interceptions per 90 minutes during the 2022/23 season (according to FBref), could prove invaluable in filling the void left by Luiz's departure.

Despite his potential to bolster Villa's midfield, Dendoncker's future at the club remains uncertain. With two years left on his four-year contract, the midfielder faces stiff competition for a starting spot. New signings Enzo Barrenechea and Ross Barkley, along with established players like John McGinn, Jacob Ramsey, Morgan Rogers, and Youri Tielemans, are all vying for places in Unai Emery's midfield.

Emery's track record of moving on fringe players, such as Bertrand Traore and Morgan Sanson, suggests that Dendoncker will need to prove his worth during pre-season to secure regular game time. The Belgian's limited playtime during his loan spell at Napoli, where he managed just 21 minutes across three appearances in Serie A, may also factor into Emery's decision-making process.

Footage from Villa's official media channels has shown Dendoncker training alongside teammates like Alex Moreno, Lucas Digne, Matty Cash, and new signing Samuel Iling-Junior. The pre-season sessions are crucial for all players, but especially for those looking to make a strong impression and stake their claim for the upcoming season.

As Aston Villa looks to build on their successful 2023/24 campaign, which saw them qualify for the Champions League under Emery's guidance, Dendoncker's return offers a glimmer of hope for their midfield conundrum. His defensive prowess and experience could be key assets as the club navigates the challenges of competing on multiple fronts.

All eyes will be on Aston Villa's pre-season preparations and the role that Leander Dendoncker may play in the club's future success. Whether he can cement a place in the starting XI or will be moved on before the transfer window closes remains to be seen, but his presence at Bodymoor Heath is an intriguing subplot in Villa's ongoing story.