On Saturday, Villa have fans had six reasons to be cheerful. After five wins from seven league games and a home fixture in Europe beckoning, here are the latest five reasons to be cheerful.
All the Blues
Since the last Five Reasons, Villa suffered a League Cup exit sandwiched between two huge league wins.
New Year’s Eve 2011 saw a poor Alex Mcleish side beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, something that wouldn’t be replicated until 2023 by Unai Emery. One away win at the Bridge wasn’t enough for the Spaniard, however as Villa, again, secured a much-needed away win to restore some pride after the defeat in Warsaw.
In Brighton, however Villa had visitors that were bang in form having won five of their opening six league games. Even the most optimistic of Villa fans would have been hesitant to confidently predict a home win. But doubting Emery is not a rewarding exercise, as Villa ran riot and devoured The Seagulls. Cup exits aside, five wins out of seven in the league is an excellent start especially for a team that has yet to find its rhythm.
Importantly, against Brighton, Villa also addressed the lost goal difference suffered at the start of the season against Newcastle.
One of the reasons that Villa have struggled to find their rhythm so far this season is due to the endless injury list. Villa’s left-hand side was crucial to the excellent attacking play demonstrated last season. Neither Moreno nor Ramsey have featured in a starting XI this season and both are gradually being re-introduced into the side.
Even with Buendia and Mings missing the campaign, Villa have a strong matchday squad once both are fully fit. Ramsey reminded fans of his importance with a stunning goal off the bench against Brighton, while Moreno’s absence has been felt too. Digne has had a successful campaign on the front foot, but defensively he seems a lot less impressive. The defeat in Warsaw representing a particular defensive implosion on his part with lack of effort and concentration being the main culprits.
With Villa sitting comfortably near the top of the table, the potential impetus added by Moreno and Ramsey is an exciting prospect.
Villa’s sound defensive record was the foundation that supported the club’s impervious run in 2023. However, since the start of the season there has been a clear vulnerability along Villa’s backline largely caused by the absence of former captain Tyrone Mings. Defeats at Anfield and St James’ Park showed a worrying lack of steel, something that Mings and the since departed Ashley Young provided last season. The benefit of having a manager as tactically astute as Unai Emery is that he can see the problem, he can identify the root of the problem and he can remedy it.
The clean sheet against Chelsea had similar elements of fortune as the previous visit to Stamford Bridge this year, but nonetheless, it was significant in that it gave the players and fans some much-needed confidence. The comfortable win against free-scoring Brighton further cemented the feeling that Emery noticed the cracks in the foundation and has moved quickly to underpin it.
Thursday presents Villa’s chance at redemption following a disappointing away match in Warsaw. Emery should certainly shoulder some blame as the backline was altered a bit too much for the Polish cauldron. Zrinjski’s visit to Villa Park presents a chance to kickstart the European campaign and to positively lead Villa into a difficult double header against Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.
Whoever Emery selects for the match on Thursday, the attitude must be much-improved from the previous European outing. This is no time to have one eye on the Wolves match, as anything other than a victory against Zrinjski will mean a potentially uncomfortable remainder of the group stage. Given AZ’s defeat in the opening game, the group is wide open and a win on Thursday will go a long way to resurrecting Villa’s chances to finish in first place.
I always believe that goal difference is a good indicator of how one team compares to another. As with any statistic, the underlying reality can be masked by anomalies that skew the sample. In Villa’s case, I believe that the goal difference points to a prosperous season ahead. Villa have conceded eleven goals in seven league games, eight of which were suffered at the hands of Newcastle and Liverpool. The fact that Villa still find themselves with +7 goal difference conceding only three goals in the other five matches and scoring 17 in those same five games is incredibly positive.
The sample size is still small but with the return of first XI players and the possibility of the further settling and improvement in new signings Zaniolo, Pau Torres and Diaby, Villa have set a stall for the season ahead. Fans forget that in order to reach 61 points again this season, Villa will not need to show the magical form of last season.
Almost a third of the last campaign was surrendered to the Gerrard experiment, so it is highly likely that unless the club suffers a Sherwood-esque implosion that Villa should comfortably reach the minimum of the same points tally of last season over 38 games under Emery. Whether or not that guarantees European football remains to be seen, but as Villa continues the top four form of 2023, the sky is the limit under this manager despite being rocked with injuries.
Follow Armen on Twitter here – @VillanArmen