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Last Sunday saw Dean Smith's spell as Aston Villa head coach come to a sad end with the 50-year-old boyhood supporter of the Birmingham-based club dismissed after five consecutive defeats pushed the Villans towards the Premier League relegation zone. Smith has left Villa Park having re-established the former European Cup winners in the top-flight after rescuing them from the Championship and although the club currently sit two points above the drop zone, they are still just five points away from the top half.

Although this season's main aim of European qualification now appears a distant hope, there is still plenty of time for a new boss to change that which is why Villa opted to act now to replace Smith during the November international break. A host of names have already been linked with the post and we look at some of the main names in the mix at present.

Early favorite: Steven Gerrard

The ex-England, Liverpool, and LA Galaxy man is just over three years into the Rangers job which has seen him lead them to the 2020-21 Scottish Championship title and back into European competition with deserved recognition for his role in that turnaround in fortunes for the Glaswegian giants.

Given his history with Liverpool, there is little doubt that the 41-year-old would relish the managerial position at Anfield one day -- potentially as Jurgen Klopp's successor -- but there are question marks over whether Gerrard would be ready for such a leap without Premier League experience first.

At Villa, the Merseysider could get the club upwardly mobile again and performing the way they did when they thrashed the Reds 7-2 just over one full calendar year ago but there is also the risk of losing what looks likely to be another title in Scotland and a shot at UEFA Champions League soccer.

Also, with Villa's aim clearly a return to continental competition soon, there is a risk that an inability to turn around their fortunes in Birmingham could damage his chances of leading his beloved Liverpool at some point.

Pedigree picks: Paulo Fonseca and Lucien Favre

Two of the most high-profile names linked with Villa since the news of Smith's departure have been the former AS Roma and Borussia Dortmund bosses with both linked with Premier League roles since leaving their most recent posts.

Fonseca, 48, rose to prominence in his adopted homeland of Portugal before enjoying a dominant spell with Shakhtar Donetsk and following that up with two years in Rome before a Tottenham Hotspur move fell through immediately after director of football Fabio Paratici's appointment.

Favre, 64, certainly has more experience with OGC Nice and Borussia Monchengladbach also on his resume but the Swiss tactician rarely stays too long in one place and immediate high points are often followed by lulls in performance before an inevitable departure.

However, while Fonseca is still carving out his reputation, Favre has had success with difficult characters such as Mario Balotelli in the past and has come close to silverware in leagues dominated by at least one superior powerhouse in both France and Germany.

In jobs: Graham Potter, Ralph Hasenhuttl and Roberto Martinez

Then there are the candidates already in positions with Brighton and Hove Albion's Graham Potter and Ralph Hasenhuttl of Southampton both in the Premier League and Belgium's Roberto Martinez also on the radar.

Potter, 46, is arguably the most logical of the links given that he is already plying his trade in the same league -- Brighton will also visit Villa next -- and in addition he is from the area and grew up following the club as was the case with Smith.

Whether or not Villa can be considered an upgrade on Brighton in current form is debatable, but the Villans' potential is enormous and something that Potter will recall from his days following the team as they won the 1982 European Cup.

Hasenhuttl, meanwhile, nailed Smith's Claret and Blue coffin shut with a 1-0 defeat last week and has regularly been linked with other Premier League and Bundesliga roles while ex-Everton boss Martinez was not long ago mentioned with Barcelona before Xavi's return from Qatar.

Gambles: Frank Lampard, Nuno and John Terry

Of the other candidates, Frank Lampard and Nuno Espirito Santo are more likely be considered ahead of former Villa assistant John Terry with the former recently approached by Norwich City after Daniel Farke's dismissal and the Portuguese recently sacked by Spurs to pave way for Antonio Conte.

Terry is yet to taste senior managerial responsibility and despite his Villa links after finishing his playing career there and then moving into the staff, he arguably does not have the necessary experience for this and is unlikely to want to accompany another candidate.

Ruled out: Kasper Hjulmand

Denmark's Kasper Hjulmand is the first name to have ruled himself out after a strong showing in 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification for Qatar after an impressive 2020 UEFA Euro this summer. 

Hjulmand was perhaps the most credible link already in a job given sporting director Johan Lange's long-standing relationship with his fellow Dane, but it was always going to depend how committed he is to this promising generation of talent currently on display and his words have confirmed that.