Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Villans Post-Spurs
Aston Villa returned to winning ways against a flat Tottenham side. Despite some horrendous refereeing inconsistencies, Villa briefly rose to 7th place and left fans awaiting an intense final two matches against the sides in 5th and 6th. Despite Liverpool and Brighton securing wins in their most recent matches, here are five reasons to be cheerful as Villa head to Anfield.
1. Points Tally
In a previous Five Reasons, I examined Villa’s remaining fixtures and set a target of surpassing Dean Smith’s best Premier League points tally of 55 from the 20/21 season. With two games to spare, Villa currently sits on 57 points, looking ahead to two final battles in the pursuit of European football next season.
Considering the early results Emery inherited this season, it is quite an achievement to surpass the points tally of Villa’s last Premier League top-half finish under Houllier/McAllister. During that season, Villa managed to reach 48 points, securing the ninth spot with a remarkable last-day victory and a leap up the table. This also highlights the unfortunate luck Smith had in only achieving 11th place with a decent return a couple of seasons ago. One potential goal for Villa next season would be to surpass Martin O’Neill’s final season points tally of 64, a tally that could be enough for a top 6 finish this year.
Considering Villa’s form under Emery, there is certainly hope that they can achieve another respectable points total next season while also competing for trophies in at least two cup competitions; let’s hope there’s a third.
A persistent theme of Emery’s tenure so far has been breaking club curses and setting club records. One remaining universal football curse that Emery can dispel would be finishing the season strongly after deservedly receiving the dreaded Manager of the Month award.
With an unbeaten ten-game run, which included only two draws and a mere three goals conceded (including the unfortunate penalty against West Ham), Emery deserves all the accolades he receives. Interestingly, the last manager to receive this award was Dean Smith in December 2020, following a good start to the campaign, marking the only occasion on which he won it. Prior to that, one would have to look back to April 2010 when the award was won by O’Neill, who accumulated three awards during his time at the club. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of many more accolades to come for Emery. Felicidades!
3. Trap Door
It was suggested on the typically lax Match of the Day coverage that Tottenham failed to punish Villa’s high defensive line, as it was a clear vulnerability. The pundits would only have needed to watch the previous three or four Villa fixtures to see that what they labelled as a vulnerability is in fact Villa’s defensive strength. Since 5 November 2022, Villa have recorded the highest number of ‘offsides against’ with 92 registered. At the time of recording, Liverpool sat in second place, some way away, on 65. The pundits highlighted the ‘poor’ runs of the Spurs attackers, however given the ability and experience of Kane, Son and Richarlison it is perhaps safe to say that they know a thing or two about running in behind a defence. The reality is that the Villa backline is organised and performing at an extremely high level.
Even if the pundits fail to credit Villa as they deserve, it is encouraging that Emery has efficiently implemented his defensive structure without the benefit of a pre-season. Once he molds the squad and has more time to coach the players over the summer, there are signs suggesting that his methods will continue to thrive.
4. Cup Finals
Managers and players often resort to the clichéd phrase “we have two cup finals remaining” when discussing crucial matches. Given Emery’s remarkable track record as a cup manager, I can imagine he will be conveying the same sentiment to the Villa players for the remaining fixtures. Liverpool is currently on a formidable winning streak, and Brighton has the ability to defeat any team on a given day—just ask Mikel Arteta, if he can hear you through his sobbing.
Regardless of what unfolds in the next two games, Villa’s resurgence has been nothing short of spectacular, and achieving a top-eight finish is already a tremendous success story. However, if Villa approaches these remaining two challenging matches as if they were the final stages of a cup competition, there is no reason why the players can’t muster up two outstanding performances.
John McGinn’s all-action performance against Tottenham was dominant from the first whistle. His energy and effort have never been lacking, even during Villa’s worst spells. However, his output and passing accuracy did experience some inconsistent moments under both previous managers. After returning from the mid-season break, McGinn appeared noticeably slimmer and fitter, and his performances have been transformed by the team’s ever-improving organization.
A combination of Villa’s approach of playing out from the back, the spacing between players, and the encouragement to take on the opposition has provided McGinn with a role that complements his best qualities. Neither Smith nor Gerrard seemed capable of consistently balancing the Villa midfield. Yet, under Emery, even when influential players like Kamara suffer injuries, the team is still able to rearrange itself while maintaining performance levels and team shape.
Considering the significantly improved performances of Luiz, Konsa, McGinn, Mings, and Watkins, it is exciting to envision a full preseason under Emery where players such as Cash, Jacob Ramsey, Buendia, and Kamara can all reach new heights.