Despite creating some good openings, Villa have suffered a second defeat on the bounce. Emery’s men haven’t quite clicked since the impressive home win against Newcastle and the European dream for next season looks to be hanging by a thread. However, with three games remaining and developments off the field, here are five reasons to be cheerful:
1. Spanish Armada
How many Spaniards does it take to challenge the top four? You may be about to find out. From day one, fans have heard Purslow and his three managerial appointments speak of the sky-high ambitions of the owners. However, progress is rarely a straight upwards line, and last season certainly went against the ‘continual development’ motto. Fortunately, since Emery’s arrival, the ship seems to be back on course, with Villa aiming for a respectable top-eight finish.
Prior to the Wolves game, the Villa boss calmly explained that this season is merely his first opportunity to bring European football back to Villa Park, but should it not transpire, there are far loftier aims in his sights. He admitted that his ultimate goal is the Champions League, and the news that Mateo Alemany is close to joining Villa’s backroom staff cements this ambition. It is hard to believe that Alemany would leave Spain and Barcelona unless he was confident that Villa were about to make big strides in the hunt for success. This should make for a supremely interesting summer at Villa Park.
It’s not often that I quote Iain Dowie, but with two defeats and just three matches to go, Villa needs to show “bouncebackability” if they have any hope of grabbing a European spot. The last and only barren run under Emery was a three-game stretch against Leicester, Arsenal, and Manchester City. However, Villa managed to recover with a ten-game unbeaten run, including eight wins – an impressive feat that would befit any elite team in the league.
The home game against Spurs next week could have been a closely contested match, with both teams level on points. Unfortunately, following their recent defeat against Wolves, Villa will realistically need to earn at least seven points in the last three games to secure European football – a challenging task. Nonetheless, Villa has shown their ability to bounce back in style once this season, and if they want to keep their European hopes alive, they’ll need to do it again.
It’s been a while since you were bombarded with the benefits of leaving Europe, but you’re about to get another taste. No Villa fan would argue against finishing in the top 6 and competing in the Europa League next season. However, following the defeat to Wolves, it seems that the European Conference League is the most likely destination for Villa if they compete on the continent next season. While I’d be happy to see Villa lift this new third-tier European trophy, I believe that having no European football next year sets up an almighty assault on the domestic league. While Emery’s post-match interview correctly states that Villa is still very much in the hunt for a European finish, as long as Villa manages to finish at least eighth, I will be content.
Prior to the Wolves game, Emery convinced me of the benefits of the European Conference League. If it’s good enough for Unai, then it’s good enough for me. However, looking at the superb form of Arsenal and Newcastle this year, I can’t help but think that finishing eighth would serve the club well. Emery would have his first pre-season at the club, a chance to trim the fat a bit more and add some quality players of his own to challenge the top sides.
Only a few weeks ago, it felt like ninth was the best position that the club could aim for this year, and it’s important not to lose sight of that. Finishing eighth or any position above is a win-win scenario.
4. Many Happy Returns
With three pivotal games remaining, the return of Coutinho, Bailey and Kamara to the squad provides Emery with some tactical flexibility that he has sorely missed. With Matty Cash likely to return next weekend too, it may be the first time this season that Villa have had a clean bill of health (bar Jed Steer) since the opening day defeat to Bournemouth.
Diego Carlos’ first appearance since his horrific injury is a positive for this season and next. It’s easy to forget the centre back arrived for a hefty fee, with a reputation as an elite ball-playing centre back. A combination of excellent form from the Konsa/ Mings pairing and the prudence not to rush him back from a bad Achilles injury have left Carlos very short on minutes. Hopefully, he has fully recovered and can play a role in Emery’s plans for next season’s push for glory.
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5. Learning from defeat
The ten-game unbeaten run was built on a foundation of three defeats, as well as an appalling defeat to Stevenage in the FA Cup. After those losses, Emery commented several times that he was learning a lot about strategy, the opposition, and most importantly, his own players from each defeat. The recent losses as well, as the remaining three games should provide Emery with the final evidence he needs to transform the side over the summer.
The appointment of Alemany, in combination with Christian Purslow’s recent promises and the decision not to spend big in January, all point to a summer of strengthening and levelling-up the first XI. Finishing in the top eight will only make that task easier for Villa’s hierarchy.