Aston Villa are seeking to build on the huge strides the club made in the January transfer window with Steven Gerrard now willing to make a play for both Franck Kessie and Luis Suarez ahead of the summer. The duo are amongst a lost list of players now in the final six months of their current deals, meaning - as a foreign club - Villa are free to negotiate with their representatives over a pre-contract agreement.

It was a hugely productive winter window for Villa, who landed four mid-season targets in Lucas Digne, Philippe Coutinho (loan), Robin Olsen (loan) and Calum Chambers.

The captures of former Barcelona pair Digne and Coutinho, in particular, were concrete evidence of the 'Gerrard factor' - put simply, the lure of working and learning from an icon of the game.

With the greatest of respect, those deals would simply not have been possible during Dean Smith's reign.

Now Villa are looking to lay the groundwork for another successful transfer window this summer when they will bid to eat up the ground on the so-called 'Big Six'.

Express Sport understands the 13th-place Midlands club are willing to rival Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and Tottenham for the signature of AC Milan's Kessie, a development reported elsewhere in the past few days.

The Italian giants are desperate to keep the Ivorian, who has failed to agree a new contract at the San Siro despite extensive talks, while Barcelona are now starting to up at the ante in their bid to secure a pre-contract agreement.