Carlos Cuellar has opened new contract talks with Villa after Alex McLeish strongly indicated he wants the popular defender to stay.

Cuellar’s deal expires at the end of the season and the Spaniard has given serious consideration to moving away from the club.

But McLeish has been impressed with Cuellar’s contribution in central defence and both full-back positions when called upon this term.

And he admits the 30-year-old’s forthcoming run in his favoured role during Richard Dunne’s absence is a prime opportunity to earn a new deal.

Cuellar came close to returning to Rangers last summer when Villa accepted a £2 million bid, but he failed to agree terms with his former club.

And since then, the player Martin O’Neill signed for £7.8 million in August 2008, has been the club’s most reliable defender when selected.

“Would I like to keep him? Why not?” said McLeish. “If Carlos produces the form I believe he is capable of then we’re going to get more shut-outs and give the opposition less chances than normal. So why would you want to let someone like that go?”

Asked to elaborate on how talks with Cuellar and his representatives were going, McLeish replied: “I don’t think there is any point just now. I think there have been talks and those talks will be ongoing.

“I’ve said to Carlos it’s important he keeps playing as well as he can do and then contracts won’t be a problem for him.”

Dunne’s two-month injury lay-off after surgery on a broken collarbone has paved the way for Cuellar to partner James Collins in central defence.

“While Richard Dunne is injured this is a chance for Carlos to show what he can do,” said McLeish. “Carlos knows his situation, so if he needs any more motivation he can look at that.

“He’s a proud type of guy and a reliable defender, as is James Collins, and I’m sure the two of them will do well together in Richard’s absence.

“We have been working on defensive aspects in training this week to try and get a good understanding between everyone.”

Despite being predominantly right-footed, Cuellar filled in with distinction at left-back in place of the out-of-form Stephen Warnock in the defeat to Manchester City. McLeish has grown to trust the defender because of the diligent way he pays such close attention to his opponents.

“He did really well against Manchester City in an unfamiliar position,” said McLeish.

“Carlos is almost like a limpit at times in the way he gets close to his opponent and he gets tackles in.”