Before reading this, I would like to ask that you spare a moment to pause and spare a thought for Bentancur and his bruised ankle. Hopefully, he can recover his playing career following the ‘assault’ from Matty Cash. Now that we have that out of the way, lets look at Five Reasons to Be Cheerful as Villa leapfrog the Spuds after an important away win.
Don’t Look Back in Ange – You’re Offside!
The battle of the ‘Cooking’ managers lived up to its hype with an all-action end-to-end game at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. High-lines, aggressive presses and flowing football is what the managers are known for and the players delivered. The Spurs media love-in struggled to fathom a third straight defeat for the North Londoners, with the narrative being pushed that Villa were lucky to win.
Spurs being repeatedly caught in Villa’s effective offside trap made it appear that there was an injustice that the home side had numerous goals disallowed. But in reality, Villa’s opponents have been caught offside 165 times since Emery arrived, so this is very much part of the game plan. So is having the world’s best goalkeeper.
Winning close games is what typically defines the elite sides at the top; the ability to grind out wins and battle through adversity, and Villa are showcasing their tools to do just that.
Euro Tie Breaker
Despite still being in the group stage, Villa will have some knockout practise on Thursday as Legia Warsaw head to Villa Park. A win by a two goal margin will ensure that Villa finish top of the group and avoid an annoying qualifying double-header in the New Year. Hopefully the Legia fans will bring all of their energy and none of the violence, as the atmosphere promises to be electric.
Villa surely will field a similar team to the one that dispatched AZ Alkmaar twice, as a win would allow Emery to park the European competition for a few months and focus solely on the assault on the Premier League. Hopefully, the first of many memorable big European nights beckons, and with the Poles stuttering in their own league lately, hopefully Villa can send a message to the rest of the competition with a comprehensive win.
With Villa sat in fourth place, two points from top and four points clear of Manchester United in 6th place, it is becoming impossible to ignore Villa’s credentials to compete at the very top. The 2023 form table provides more than enough evidence that Villa’s start is far from a fortunate run, but just reward for the coaching and playing staff.
After the European midweek match, Villa will travel to Bournemouth where form on the south coast has been poor in recent seasons with the previous win being recorded in that false dawn under Sherwood, when Rudy Gestede leapt to score the winner.
However, Emery has already broken one poor run against Bournemouth since arriving; Villa had lost the previous four matches home and away against the Cherries only for the Spandiard’s Villa side to humble them 3-0 at Villa Park in March. A repeat of that performance could potentially setup a superb weekend for Villa, with several of their rivals facing off in the league, allowing Villa to further cement themselves in the upper echelons of the league.
The half-time changes by Emery were a great example of what Villa have lacked in recent years or even decades from its manager. Despite being level at half-time, Tottenham were on top for the majority of the first half. Would a Lambert, Mcleish or Gerrard have been able to read the game and make a proactive rather than reactive change? Even Dean Smith and Martin O’Neill, for all of their positives, struggled to adjust effectively when Plan A was failing.
In Emery, fans know that they have an elite tactician and even when coming up against a media darling mastermind in Big Ange, it is the Spaniard, who acted first with a decisive change. His use of Bailey and Tielemans has been excellent recently, which perhaps shows that trust and familiarity is growing between the manager and his players. He knows when to use them and they are rewarding his faith in them.
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As December looms, clubs find themselves a matter of weeks away from the mid-season pit stop, where the well-oiled machine can be tweaked and adjusted. Unless the following seven league games all end in disaster, it is likely that Villa will be in and around the top five come January. This is a position that Villa haven’t found themselves since Randy Lerner owned the club.
Then, earlier in Martin O’Neill’s tenure, arguably some of his best business was achieved in the January window of 2007, with Ashley Young and John Carew adding both quality on the pitch and a sense of excitement off of it.
If there is to be business done this January, it will be on a similar level. Players to improve the match day squad, while trying to ensure that Villa’s current squad balance is not unsettled.
The Villa owners are very much enamoured with Emery, so will certainly seek to add to the ranks to help Villa realise their Champions League dream. The only thing that can possibly hold them back is FFP, which behind-the-scenes, has been a cause of frustration to their ambitions for the club. Ultimately, it’s a good sign, for if they’re unhappy about being held back by FFP, then you know they want to go places with Villa.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen