Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Villans
Another week and two more notches to add to Unai Emery’s bedpost with wins against AZ Alkmaar and Fulham. As we enter another seemingly never-ending international break, here are the Five Reasons to Be Cheerful as Villans:
It took injuries, hell, fire and brimstone for Gareth Southgate to finally reward Ezri Konsa’s excellent form with a call-up to the national team. While it has only taken Cole Palmer six starts to secure his call-up; it has taken a year of solid performances since Unai Emery’s arrival, in arguably England’s weakest position, for Konsa to be selected. No club favouritism there, no.
Putting inept managers to one side for now; while the recent international call-ups for Luiz and Konsa will result in more travelling for our key players and more opportunities to pick up injuries and generally tire. However, it only adds to Villa’s appeal. When prospective players are considering a move to Villa in future, it is safe to assume that we can satisfy many of the key demands such as good wages, good facilities, a strong fanbase, elite manager and a top stadium. Seeing our players break into their international teams will attract more players such as Kamara, who are perhaps on the periphery of the national side looking for a way in.
Recruitment is everything, and to maximise the club’s reach, current Villa players need to be competing in international tournaments. The attention and gravitas that Emi Martinez has brought the club in the past year is a prime example.
No, I’m not suggesting that this is the year that Villa finally regains its place at the pinnacle of English football. However, after the next fixture away at injury and suspension plagued Spurs, Villa will have completed one third of the season’s fixtures. Given Villa’s own injury issues and the fact that there is still a feeling that Villa haven’t yet fully clicked yet, there is a lot to be excited about. The form under Emery would suggest that an assault on the Champions League places is certainly on the cards. As the club edges closer to the New Year, if Villa finds itself still within touching distance of the top of the league then surely the owners will start to dream big and take their cheque book out of their desk drawer.
Villa currently sits three points below Manchester City, having already played Liverpool and Newcastle away (albeit losing both convincingly). The return from the international break will see Villa face-off with Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United (among others). If, by January, the gap at the top is still narrow, then the January transfer plans will surely reflect the opportunity facing the club. Villa will again have the opportunity to ‘go bold’ to finally secure a Champions League spot, and hopefully will be thinking bolder than another Emile Heskey-style signing ala the Martin O’Neill period.
This is all hypothetical and looking far ahead, but it would be naïve to ignore the calendar year league table and the form since Emery took over the club. Villa are not simply making up the numbers this year, and the next six weeks will show fans just how serious the challenge will be.
Signed by Bruce, captained by Gerrard, but born under Unai Emery. John McGinn has notched up three goals and two assists in twelve league games so far this season. He has already matched his best goal tally in the Premier League, and given the performance against Fulham, there are many more still to come. But it isn’t just his attacking output that makes him so important to this Villa side. McGinn’s high-octane approach is important in both pressing and dispossessing opposition players, as well as starting Villa’s clinical counter attacks with his quick-turns and eye for a forward pass.
Villa’s longest-serving player has also been praised by Pau Torres this week, with McGinn credited with motivating and inspiring his team mates. It was an odd decision by Gerrard to select McGinn at the time, given that the former manager was unable to balance a team and get the best out of the Scot. Now that the dust has settled following the Gerrard experiment and with Villa now flying high under Emery, his captaincy credentials are clear for all to see.
The Great Cook-Off
Following football on social media can feel like an episode of Masterchef these days, with players and managers endlessly ‘cooking’. Two managers, who have been ‘cooking’ most since the summer are about to lock horns after the international break. Both are considered to be strong tacticians and have performed well so far this season. The Ange vs Unai battle will be intriguing but can also prove a pivotal moment for both managers.
Spurs have had a difficult month with defeats to Chelsea and Wolves, which has resulted in suspensions and injuries to key players. A third defeat on the trot might see the media darlings of this season facing some difficult questions, as Villa would leapfrog them with a second away win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in 2023. For Villa, the game presents a chance to put right the poor away performances at Liverpool and Newcastle and to cement a top-five position heading into a frantic December.
Villa Christmas Jumper Alert!
Ladies Bounce Back
After a surprisingly poor but equally tricky start to the league campaign, the Villa Women’s team finally got a win under their belts and moved off the bottom of the table. A 2-0 win away at Bristol, courtesy of an own goal and late left-footed striker from Ebony Salmon, sets up another important tie away at West Ham. A second win on the bounce would see Villa start to move back towards midtable. The return of Kenza Dali, combined with winnable matches against West Ham and Everton, will hopefully set Villa back on the path to the top half of the table.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen