As the Aston Villa squad heads into an international break, the opening four games have exposed fans as either glass half empty or glass half full supporters. For those that are feeling disappointed and pessimistic, here are five reasons to be cheerful:
With four games played, Villa sit in tenth place having won two and lost two. The two wins were against opposition that provided little resistance against a strong Villa side, but the two defeats were fixtures where Villa themselves showed little resilience against seemingly superior opposition.
St James’ Park and Anfield away are two of the hardest fixtures in the calendar and that’s without magnifying Villa’s appalling record at both grounds. Nonetheless, both performances lacked the style of the Emery performances that fans have come to enjoy and expect. Sloppy early goals conceded and glaring chances squandered; this wasn’t the Villa that fans witnessed in the second half of last season.
So why be positive? Well, consider that Villa had three points from four games last season against Bournemouth, Everton, Palace and West Ham (who were bottom at the time). Villa went on to have a horrendous opening third of the season under Steven Gerrard and still reached 61 points after the arrival of Emery. This means that Villa do not need to replicate the staggeringly consistent winning form from last season to reach 61 points again. The wins may not come as thick and fast but Villa started last season with a 13 game handicap before the arrival of Emery, so over the course of a 38 game season with the Spaniard in charge, Villa could be set for a large points haul this season.
The upcoming league fixtures against Palace, Chelsea and Brighton will give us a much better idea of Villa’s standing this season. Currently Villa are on par from their opening four fixtures, let’s see where the next four take them.
The draw for the group stages was an exciting affair to be involved in. It has been far too long since Villa took part in a group stage of a European competition, even if it is in a third tier one.
Villa are currently favourites in the completion; something that could change once sides are dumped out of the Europa League. Villa’s group stage opponents include Poland’s Legia Warsaw, Holland’s AZ Alkmaar and Zrinjski Mostar of Bosnia, with the competition kicking off for Villa at 17.45 on 21 September away in Warsaw.
The group will be a sterner test than the two legs against Hibernian, but nonetheless Villa will target a top spot finish in the hope of avoiding a qualifying round designated to sides finishing in second place. The Conference League provides fans with six extra opportunities to see Villa play midweek and the incentive of winning a trophy for the first time since 1996! It’s great to be back.
It’s never good to suffer a defeat before an international break and this time is no different. However, despite the inevitable tedium of watching the likes of Maguire, Phillips, Colwill and Nketiah undeservedly line up for England, this international break should suit Villa to a tee.
Two weeks of training for the players not selected by their national sides is a bonus with a meticulous tactician such as Emery, providing him with the opportunity to iron out the errors witnessed at Anfield. The time also, more importantly, hopefully allows Moreno, Ramsey and Carlos to recover and return to the squad in time for a crunch tie against Crystal Palace. Both Moreno and Ramsey were instrumental to Villa’s excellent form in the first half of 2023 and given Villa’s long-term absentees, both have been sorely missed.
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The summer transfer window saw an influx of exciting names arriving at Villa Park. Emery’s four main signings consisted of Tielemans, Torres, Diaby and Zaniolo all of whom contribute to the attacking play and chance creation the manager is seeking.
Fans were left surprised, however, after the sale of Archer, Aaron Ramsey and Philogene, despite quite clear benefits in the new approach taken by the Villa hierarchy. Emery described the sales as a method of allowing Villa to maintain “control” of the young players, whilst also balancing the FFP books.
The latter is significant for future transfer windows as Villa have created pure profit from their academy players allowing Emery to further mould the team to his vision. Villa didn’t rush to sign an extra body for the sake of it, much like they didn’t panic buy after the sale of Danny Ings in January. The club are wheeling and dealing in a sensible fashion allowing the manager to add improved quality to the Match Day squad at a sensible rate.
Kiss The Chef
The summer window of 2023 led to an annoying and repetitive (bordering on obsessive) reference to ‘cooking’ on social media. With every signing, our Michelin star rated chef was supposedly ‘cooking’ up something very special. As far as Twitter lingo and memes go, this is up there with the most annoying.
Following on from two hefty defeats to Liverpool and Newcastle, it appears that the same people, who raved about Emery’s new ingredients were in fact looking for a fast-food approach instead of actually letting the chef prep his meal. Two defeats and suddenly the social media whinging has erupted. The signings of Zaniolo, Torres and Diaby in particular need time to adapt to the league and all of the players need the chance to gel together in Emery’s tweaked system.
Filet mignon is still on the menu but the chef just needs a little of bit of patience to ensure the meat is cooked, the potatoes are crispy and the sauce is thick enough. In the meantime, I am wishing for a swift death to the ‘cooking’ terminology.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen