Five Reasons to be Cheerful as Aston Villa fans After Newcastle Win
By Armen Mirzoian
Following on from Villa’s demolition of Newcastle, there were discussions on renaming this column ‘five hundred reasons to be cheerful’, however due to time constraints the idea was dismissed quicker than the time it takes Ollie Watkins to hit the woodwork from kick off. With Villa still flying, here are another five reason to be cheerful…
1. Acid Tests
‘Gordon hasn’t scored for Newcastle yet? You know what that means…’
For too long, Villa fans have understandably lamented the same old curses and fragilities. Well, Gordon didn’t score. In fact, he was anonymous. Looking back over Villa’s recent fixtures, they have presented several ‘typical Villa’ moments that have been promptly quashed. At Stamford Bridge, with Villa level on points with Chelsea, it presented a ‘vintage Villa’ opportunity to fall short after working so hard to catch them. No such luck for Potter; Villa was ruthless and sent the former Brighton manager packing (almost literally).
Having beaten Chelsea and done the hard work, the tension was raised for the visiting relegation battlers, Leicester. Cue another perfect moment for a Villa implosion, yet Emery’s side secured an impressive away win against a side buoyed by Rodgers’ sacking. Next, another relegation-battling side was in the way, and Villa dispatched Forest while seemingly in second gear.
Finding themselves in nose-bleed territory, Villa then faced one of the strongest sides in the league, Newcastle United. The state-owned side had lost only three games all season, with all three defeats coming against Liverpool and Manchester City. It was another moment for Villa to capitulate against a side looking certain for Champions League football next season.
Having thrashed Newcastle 3-0 and having passed every acid test along the way, is it finally time for Villa fans to accept the curses are banished and the constant nervousness is no longer required? I think so.
2. Men of the Match
The wins are all beginning to blur into one another (winning 12 in 18 games will do that), but the most recent eight matches have shared something very positive. Whether you are listening to podcasts, looking on social media, or speaking with friends, you are likely to see a variety of opinions on the Man of the Match. Countless times, Moreno, Mings, McGinn, Martinez, Luiz, and Watkins have all been worthy of the award, with Konsa, Buendia, and Ramsey shining in matches too.
It is easy to see why the players look happy and confident on and off the pitch. Credit goes to the players, of course, but the maestro has clearly been Unai Emery. The team is motivated, hungry, organized, and playing to its strengths. No wonder all of the aforementioned players have improved infinitely since the Spaniard arrived. Wherever Villa may finish this season, it bodes well to have 11 players and the subs playing as a united force.
If you had told me in October that Watkins would have 20 goal contributions by April with some club records broken along the way, then I would have assumed that you forgot your medication that morning. Whether you lost faith in him or not, there was no denying that his finishing had gotten progressively worse since his second season began.
Was it the arrival of Ings, the birth of his first child, or simply inept management?
Maybe it was all of them, or maybe none. While his form has been blistering overall, the performance against Newcastle was head and shoulders above his best since the 7-2 demolition of Liverpool, if not his best overall. The game marked his change from being a pacey hard-working striker to a real menace.
Watkins has been quoted as saying that Emery has had him reviewing specific strikers that have thrived in the Spaniard’s system. This, coupled with the midfielders and fullbacks constantly threading passes into the space in front of Watkins, has led to a much more predatory and confident striker. Long may it continue.
4. Aim High
Emery’s post-match interviews have understandably changed over the past two weeks. Villa began the game against Chelsea hoping to secure a top-half finish and leapfrog their opponents and potentially Fulham. That seems like a long time ago, with Villa now spending a second week in sixth place. It instills confidence and pride that Emery didn’t humbly deny the fact that we are in the conversation for a European spot. Quite the opposite, he was the first to confirm it. For a week now, Emery has stated that with a lot of hard work and big victories, Villa can aim for European football next season.
With some parts of the media now pushing a top-four narrative for the club, Emery has rightly recognized that the current objective is to fight for a UEFA Cup spot, and should things change, he will duly accept the new objective. For Villa fans, it is probably best not to get too tied up with specific positions just yet as the possibilities keep improving. The season is very much in the club’s hands, with fixtures against most of their rivals to come. With a trip to Brentford next on the horizon, Villa will aim to increase the gap to seventh place and, should the stars align, bring themselves closer to the teams above.
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5. Man Down
An impressive aspect of the recent form is that it has been achieved despite some important players being absent. Kamara, Coutinho, Cash, and Bailey were missing for the Newcastle game. Coutinho finally started to look brighter under Emery with a goal against Arsenal prior to his injury, so he would certainly have a role to play were he to come back into the fray. Kamara has been excellent this season, but pleasingly, the Villa midfield has coped extremely well in his absence. Cash, too, was finally showing some improved form before picking up an injury on international duty.
While Bailey’s form has not been scintillating, there is no question that his pace causes problems for tiring defenses off the bench, so his return is eagerly awaited. Finally, the excellent partnership of Konsa and Mings has allowed summer signing Diego Carlos to take his time recovering from a horrendous Achilles injury. While he may be wondering if he still has a first XI role to play at the club, Villa has managed this excellent run of clean sheets and victories without calling on the Brazilian. The hope is that they are all back in contention soon, offering Emery more opportunities to rest and make changes mid-game.