Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Villans After Old Trafford Trip
By Armen Mirzoian
The unthinkable has happened… Aston Villa have lost a game and it’s something we all just have to accept, as unusual as it may seem. To help prepare you for the vital away game with the Dog Heads, here are five reasons to be cheerful this week:
1. Smooth Finish
After a grueling couple of months, including both weekend and midweek ties, the Villa squad has held up very well, producing some fine results. But there are signs that it may also be starting to show signs of fatigue. With three potential first XI players and Philippe Coutinho missing for weeks, the Villa bench hasn’t been able to provide too much impact (aside from Bertrand Traoré).
Thankfully, with four games remaining, the midweek games are over for this season, providing Unai Emery with the opportunity to prepare his side for four massive ties and hopefully get some bodies back into the squad. Competition for places can give a few players a kick up the backside, while the return of Matty Cash would allow Ashley Young a chance to rest outside of the cryogenic freezer.
2. Win-Win Situation
Emery suggested before and after the game that he intends to enjoy the remaining matches and hopes the fans will do likewise. It has been a peculiar season for Villa, with the team focusing on ensuring survival for the first half of the season, then spending the next 12-13 matches trying to break into the top half of the table. Along the way, Villa has somehow found itself fighting for a top six finish in the final few games. It looks almost certain that Villa will finish in the top eight, unless Brentford pulls off some miraculous results against strong sides and Villa implodes. It is easy to lose sight of what an achievement this would be for a team that hasn’t finished eighth or above since Martin O’Neill’s final season in 2010.
Of course, Villa should be aiming to finish as high up the table as possible, you cannot accuse me of lacking ambition but the reality is that it will be a tall order with Wolves, Brighton, Spurs and Liverpool remaining for Villa to play. It is certainly feasible that Villa can snatch sixth spot from under Tottenham’s and Brighton’s noses, while Liverpool must now be favourites to claim fifth spot with a reasonably simple close to the season.
However, I see Villa in a win-win situation. If Villa cannot secure the fifth or sixth place and claim a Europa League spot, then finishing in the seventh or eighth position both carry positives. The Europa Conference League is undeniably a tin-pot trophy, but for a club that hasn’t won anything since 1996, we certainly would rise to the occasion if we find ourselves in the latter stages, as well as providing traveling away fans with some trips around Europe. But if Villa finishes eighth, then it provides an excellent platform to take the incredible Champions League form under Emery into the new season, bolstered with new additions and a full preseason. My point is that we have already won and succeeded in making this season a positive one. Let’s listen to Emery and enjoy the exciting close to the season.
3. Bold Plans
Let me stop you right there, no, this isn’t a look at the kit man’s new laundry detergent regimen under Unai Emery. Following on from the Fan Advisory Board meeting with Christian Purslow, the CEO intimated that Villa have ‘bold’ plans for the summer transfer window. While this could be interpreted in a number of ways, I believe that Villa will likely break the club’s transfer record this summer to give Emery the tools to fight at the very top.
While Emery is renowned for signing players that may be unfashionable and turning them into effective players competing at the top in highly effective teams (see Sevilla and Villareal); I believe he will be given the chance to sign players akin to Newcastle’s purchases of Bruno and Isak. While certainly, Emery will continue his Janaury culling with further player sales; I could see him replacing them with some ‘Moreno-esque’ signings that don’t break the bank. On top of that, I’d hope to see the squad supplemented with two statement signings that can propel the club to and above the ‘Sky 6’ for years to come. With signings will come more pressure, but as Emery has stated this week, it would be the good kind of pressure that he craves.
4. Spursy Spuds
While Villa may have succumbed to a tight away defeat at Old Trafford, Tottenham managed to do the most Spursy thing to date by both equalising and then conceding to Liverpool in stoppage time. There’s no denying it, on the whole, results did not go Villa’s way this weekend but luckily when you’re one of the most in-form sides in Europe you do have scope to drop a point or two and not get too disheartened.
With Spurs losing in heart-breaking fashion to Liverpool, and assuming Villa can pick up three points away to the Dog Heads next weekend, then it sets up the mother of all games against Tottenham at Villa Park as a potential Europa League play-off.
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5. Lethal Injection
If the Wolves squad was a dog, then even the most loyal of Wolves fan would have had no qualms about putting it down at full-time against Brighton. With Villa hoping that the Dog Heads would continue their decent form of 2023 and frustrate the Seagulls, the capitulation couldn’t have been more pathetic.
The home tie against Villa remains the only remaining bit of motivation for Wolves, as they prepare their sun tan lotion and Speedos for the beach. Nonetheless, as Emery studies the highlights of their demise to Brighton, he should find more than enough gaping holes in their defence to exploit next weekend. It isn’t often that a team is decimated twice in a row in this league (bar Leeds), but at this stage of the season it couldn’t have done Wolves’ spirits any good and hopefully gives Villa the chance to euphonise the ailing hounds.