Chelsea's victory over German giants Bayern Munich on Tuesday night in the Champions League quarter-finals went some way to proving the Premiership is stronger than the Bundesliga, but it has not affected Thomas Hitzlsperger's decision to return home.

The Aston Villa midfielder's free transfer to Stuttgart was confirmed yesterday when the German club said Hitzlsperger has signed a two-year deal, with the option of a further 12 months.

The 23-year-old German international will remain at Villa Park for the remainder of the season, but David O'Leary appears reluctant to play Hitzlsperger in any of Villa's final six games this season ahead of other - more committed - players such as Steven Davis.

Consequently, Hitzlsperger's contribution in Villa's 3-0 victory at Newcastle United earlier this month may well turn out to be his last game for the club.

And it appears both Hitzlsperger's future employers and the player himself are already starting to plan ahead for next season.

Stuttgart chairman Erwin Staudt said "Thomas's arrival is an important message to the team and the fans. Our ambition is no secret, we want to sign quality players and strengthen our squad."

Coach Matthias Sammer added: "The signing of Thomas Hitzlsperger is an important step for the new season.

"Thomas has proved himself in England despite still being a young player. We are delighted that he has decided to join Stuttgart and we are absolutely sure that he will continue to develop as a player in the next few years."

Hitzlsperger's impending departure will increase the spotlight and expectancy on the rest of Villa's midfielders between now and the end of the campaign.

The midfielder quartet of Lee Hendrie, Gareth Barry, Davis and Nolberto Solano are all expected to retain their places on Saturday at Southampton.

But influential midfielder Gavin McCann, who has not played for the first team since cartilage surgery in early January, could yet feature if he does well at Nottingham Forest for the reserves tonight.

The aggressive midfielder played 65 minutes of Villa's reserves' 7-5 defeat at Sunderland recently after three months on the sidelines with a knee injury.

And McCann believes another successful run-out tonight could put him in the frame for Villa's match at the St Mary's Stadium.

McCann said: "The specialist said I'd be about three months and that's how long I've been out, so I never wrote the season off.

"Some of the lads decide they don't want to go to games when they're out injured, but I can't stay away.

"But when you know you're getting closer and could almost be out there, that's when it drives you mad."