By Jonty Banks

10th Mar, 2023 | 4:30pm

Aaron Ramsey and Finn Azaz face fight for Aston Villa first-team action if Philippe Coutinho leaves this summer

With Philippe Coutinho once again sidelined with an injury and looking to be destined for a summer departure from Aston Villa, a vacant playmaker spot may be available for either Aaron Ramsey or Finn Azaz to fill.

The Brazilian attacker was granted permission to leave the West Midlands in the January transfer window – just a year after joining the club – after slipping down the pecking order under new manager Unai Emery. [Football Insider, 24 December]

And after sustaining a hamstring injury prior to the Everton clash a fortnight ago, it looks like the former Barcelona star is set to be sidelined until the beginning of April at the very least.

If Coutinho isn’t able to impact proceedings after returning from injury and is sanctioned a Villa Park exit in the summer, the mantle could fall to two academy graduates to fight it out for a spot in Emery’s plans going forward.

Both Azaz – who is on loan at Plymouth Argyle – and Middlesbrough loanee Ramsey have shone at their respective clubs recently in an advanced midfield position and the next step in both players’ careers is attempting to bridge the gap to first-team football at Aston Villa.

At the moment, Azaz could be in the box seat for a successful return to Premier League action next season after an extremely productive campaign with the League One high-flyers that has seen him net seven goals and provide nine assists from just 24 games.

The 22-year-old was the architect of The Pilgrims’ comeback victory against Derby County on Tuesday (7 March), assisting Callum Wright’s goal before winning the penalty which sealed all three points.

With Azaz’s contract with Villa expiring at the end of the season, he is set for a crossroads that could be affected by the performances of fellow loanee Ramsey.

The younger brother of first-team regular Jacob has enjoyed a fruitful campaign in the Championship this season, firstly, with Norwich City and more recently with Middlesbrough, after making a January switch.

The 20-year-old is possibly a little further behind Azaz in terms of experience, but he highlighted his classy play with a brace in Boro’s most recent 5-0 victory over Reading – including an incredible solo effort that saw the playmaker run almost the length of the pitch to score on the counter-attack.

However, with Emery expected to bolster his attacking ranks in the summer transfer window, there is unlikely to be space for both players to feature in the Aston Villa first-team going forward.

With both players bang in form and destined for big things in the game, the closing periods of the season could determine which academy player is granted the opportunity to work under the watchful eye of Emery.

In other Aston Villa news, the club could save themselves millions in the summer with one contract decision.