Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Villans
Another win in Europe and a comfortable performance against Luton Town have resulted in Villa being well-positioned in both competitions. As Villa head to Nottingham, here are my five reasons to be cheerful.
After a lethargic first two group stage games against Legia Warsaw and Zrinjski Mostar, Emery decided to include several heavy-hitters in arguably the toughest tie of the group away in Alkmaar. Villa’s midfield included Kamara, Luiz and Mcginn, with Ollie Watkins leading the line for the first time in Europe since the away trip in Scotland earlier in the play-off round.
AZ were flying high in their own league with the freakish 4-3 defeat to Zrinjski marking the only blemish on an otherwise excellent season. Yet, they were in for a shock against their English adversaries. From the start, Villa bossed the tie and ended up winning 4-1 on the night with excellent displays from Tielemans and Bailey, in particular. The win means that if Villa can beat AZ in the home tie then qualification will increasingly look likely, with only two games remaining to ensure the group is won.
While Villa have finally taken off in Europe, at home they have been no less impressive. Villa’s form in the Premier League has been consistently excellent since Emery arrived a year ago, so although Villa have surprised some as they sit five points clear in fifth spot (before the weekend’s games), it isn’t hugely surprising to Villa fans. Despite missing four starting XI players from last season’s impressive finish due to injury, Villa have brushed aside the majority of opponents this season, including a 4-1 win against last season’s Europa Conference League winners West Ham and a thumping 6-1 win against media darlings Brighton.
As Villa climb higher, the pressure will undoubtedly start to build, but so far Emery’s men seem to cope well with adversity and bounce back quickly after occasional disappointment. With Nottingham Forest and Fulham still to play in the league before the next international break, Villa could see themselves pushing ahead of other Champions League rivals as a tricky December looms.
If Villa can create a points buffer heading into the games against Arsenal and Manchester City, then they can perhaps approach these matches without fear and play with more confidence. Forest away will be a tricky tie but a win there will surely give the players belief that something special can be achieved this year; a year when a fifth Champions League spot is quite possibly being added to the Premier League.
Jamaican Me Crazy
It is fair to say that Leon Bailey’s first two seasons at Villa were not a huge success. The first saw him blighted by injury only to then struggle to make an impact under newly appointed manager Steven Gerrard. His second season wasn’t much better, as Gerrard’s Villa side never got going and despite newly-appointed Emery improving the fortunes of the majority of the squad, Bailey just couldn’t find any consistency on the pitch.
This season, however, has been a different story entirely. Emery has certainly found some magic from somewhere as Villa fans are finally seeing the Leon Bailey that was promised. He has managed to conjure up three league goals and two assists in the equivalent of three full matches so far (269 minutes). Additionally, in Europe, he has added three goals and two assists in five appearances.
His interviews in recent weeks have suggested that he is very much onboard with the manager and happy to be rotated as long as it leads to victories and a more productive season on his part. His redemption story at Villa could get more interesting as the season develops since he clearly has an important role to play to help Villa’s assault on both domestic and European fronts.
Hopefully his form will give him more belief and that, in turn, will get the fans behind him again.
When news of the Italian betting scandal emerged, Nicolò Zaniolo was potentially facing the end of his Villa career as he is currently only on loan with an option to buy, we are led to believe. Although not yet confirmed, it appears as though the Italian may escape with just a fine, as allegedly his gambling only involved casino-style games rather than betting on sport as was the case with the now-banned Sandro Tonali.
This would represent a huge boost to the club and player alike. Although, he has struggled to find the net so far, the raw energy and potential is there for all to see. Once he forms a bond with the likes of Watkins and Diaby, then fans will start to see why some Roma fans labelled him as the new ‘Totti’ only a few years ago.
A Villa attack consisting of Zaniolo, Ramsey, Bailey and Diaby, alongside and behind Watkins, gives Emery a rich bounty of options with which to unlock defences.
The videos emerging from Bodymoor Heath showing a smiling Alex Moreno returning to full training provide another massive boost to Villa’s packed November. Moreno was at the forefront of Villa’s rise up the table in 2023. Relatively unknown to most Villa fans before his arrival, Moreno very quickly wooed fans with his energy, electric pace and his desire to run at the opposition.
Villa’s left flank devastated Newcastle at Villa Park towards the end of last season, yet it has so far been missing in action this season with both Moreno and Ramsey struggling with injuries. Digne and Zaniolo have done a decent job of causing problems down the left hand side with Digne in particular creating a good amount of goalscoring opportunities. Nonetheless, Moreno’s eventual return will add much-needed depth to a Villa squad facing a busy end to the year and he will allow the team to attack teams in a more piercing way than the current options allow.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen