Villa closing in on Sylla

Aston Villa are close to a belated first signing of the January transfer window, with a £1.75 million swoop for France Under-21 international midfielder Yacouba Sylla.

Sylla, 22, who currently plays for Ligue 2 outfit Clermont Foot, was linked with both Queens Park Rangers and Fulham earlier this month but has passed a medical ahead of a move to Villa Park and is expected to be available to play against Everton on Saturday.

Despite concerns that a jump from the French second tier to the Premier League may be too much, former Villa boss Gerard Houllier believes the player will be more than capable in Paul Lambert’s side.

“It is a similar standard to the Championship,” he said. “I have spoken to one or two people at Clermont and they say he can play at a higher level, certainly in Ligue 1.

“He can either play in front of the defence as a sitter, or he can play in a defensive midfield triangle. Clermont have a good reputation for supplying players for Ligue 1 and he would have made that step up next season.

“In England, in the Premier League at Aston Villa, it will be a massive challenge for him but he is thought of in France as a very promising player.”

Villa, who had been on the trail of Moussa Sissoko - the midfielder who instead made his debut in Newcastle’s victory against them on Tuesday - hope to make a further capture before Thursday’s deadline. Spare cash may be freed up by a potential move for striker Darren Bent to Stoke.