Carlos Cuellar’s frustrating Villa career has suffered another setback with the defender facing a race to be fit for next season following a knee operation.
It is a major blow for Cuellar going into the final year of his contract, but banishes speculation that he will leave the club this summer.
Cuellar underwent surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus and his rehabilitation is expected to take up most of the close season.
Villa estimate it will be three months before he is able to return to action, virtually ruling him out of pre-season.
It is the latest setback for the 29-year-old Spaniard, who has struggled to hold down a central defensive place since arriving in summer 2008.
Cuellar has failed to break up the partnership of James Collins and Richard Dunne despite Villa’s defensive deficiencies.
When he has been fit and in favour, the £7.8 million former Rangers favourite has generally been asked to fill in at right-back.
Cuellar has been linked with a return to Spain but recently told Villa fans on Twitter he is happy at the club and wants to stay.
His injury is likely to increase the need for a new central defender with Villa already targeting reinforcements in that area.
Meanwhile, Marc Albrighton believes that Villa’s surprisingly successful close to the season bodes well for their hopes of a much-improved 2011-12 campaign.
Albrighton, who was one of the shining lights after breaking through to the first team, was delighted that Villa secured a ninth-placed finish.
“We’ve had a long, tough season but we’ve finished it off in style with a top-half finish, which is where the club should be at least.
“The history that we’ve got at the club is brilliant but this season has been very difficult on and off the field.
“We’ve given a good account of ourselves in the last few games and it has gone really well.”
Albrighton expressed his relief that Villa went into Sunday’s finale against Liverpool with their relegation worries well and truly banished.
But he admitted it was a strange situation being on the Villa Park pitch with most of the crowd’s attention wandering to results elsewhere.
“It was good knowing the fact that nothing bad could happen to us,” added Albrighton, who came on as first half substitute in place of injured Fabian Delph to set up Stewart Downing’s winning goal against Liverpool.
“On the other hand you wanted to look at the screen and check the scores all the time and see who was up and who was down.”