Five Reasons to be Cheerful
Back-to-back away wins suddenly place Aston Villa in the European qualifying spots, is the NSWE plan finally coming to fruitition?
By Armen Mirzoian
1. Tiger Blood
You may be wondering what exactly does Unai Emery share with the infamous Charlie Sheen? While yes, both may have jet black hair and international fame; it is their shared love and knack for ‘winning’ that we must cherish. After yet another a couple of victories since the international snooze break, the top of the table has now opened up for Emery’s side, something which would have seemed highly unlikely after the 3-0 humbling at Craven Cottage.
Ironically, Villa’s resurgence under Emery and his ‘tiger blood’ has left a sliding Fulham with a bullseye on their back. After their implosion at Old Trafford in the FA Cup and Aleksandar Mitrović’s resulting eight-match ban, the Cottagers look like the lowest hanging fruit to topple to ensure Villa finishing in the top half.
After impressive Villa away wins at Chelsea and Leicester City, that should be a given now, with the newly reset aim of roaring into Europe entirely possible now.
2. European Elites
Do all Villa fans share the same desire for no new English sides to win the European Cup? If so, then the latest Champions League draw last week gives the best chance for Manchester City to miss out on joining the elite list of clubs that held Europe’s biggest club level prize.
Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa are the only teams to have held the cup, so Manchester City’s draw against Bayern followed by Real Madrid or Chelsea, serves up a good chance for another Pep masterclass in European failure.
While we may not be in contention for the trophy ourselves, there is no desire to see Manchester City, a side currently charged with financial juicing, lift the cup for the first time and join Villa at the most elite of tables.
By the way, Villa suddenly find themselves in April, just six points off the top four Champions League places and above Liverpool and Chelsea in the league table. With games against the four teams directly above them to come – with three at Villa Park – dare we dream?
3. Chipping in
There have been many pleasing aspects to Emery’s start at Villa, such as Watkins’ resurgence and the fact that Villa have scored in every game so far with him at the helm (yes, if you want to beat the Villa, you’ll need at least two goals). But three recent victories without Kamara highlight arguably one of the most significant improvements.
Under Smith and Gerrard, the midfield balance was never struck and players appeared to be assigned roles that didn’t suit their skill set. As such, players like Mcginn and Luiz were made to look poor on many occasions as Villa struggled to control matches.
Emery hasn’t taken long to balance the side and ensure that the spacing between the players and midfielders, in particular, brings out their best qualities. Luiz appears to be oozing confidence and flair on the pitch, while Mcginn is finally using his physicality and attacking drive in harmful areas.
Watching the midfield quickly turn defence into attack has been a delight to behold and with Kamara to return (again); the midfield may finally become our biggest weapon rather than simply remaining the area of the pitch that we look to bypass with a long ball. Heaven forbid.
4. Cup Glory
While the men’s team is going great guns, the Villa Women’s team have recently racked up another two impressive wins. Smashing the Foxes 5-0 and an even more impressive 2-1 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup, setting up a semi-final against Chelsea. The form and momentum of the side puts the Villa Women in with a great shout to finish as the best of the rest, behind the established top four. With further investment in the summer, could they challenge for European places next season? Let’s hope so.
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As a final point, I think it is worth just taking a moment to reflect on where this club has been over the past decade. After the managers, CEOs and Chairmen that have come and (thankfully) gone, it is nothing short of a miracle to find the club in its current position, consider Villa’s start to the season.
With a minimum of a top half finish looking likely, there’s a squad filled with top talent worthy of a European push and a manager more than capable of achieving it. Not to mention two owners with vast wealth and determination to continue taking the club higher. As things stand this season, there is a feeling among many fans that it is a good moment in time to be a supporter given everything that took place following O’Neill’s dereliction of duty.
No, these aren’t the glory years just yet, where Villa lifted trophies and sat at the top table but watching sides like Liverpool and Chelsea disintegrate this season with United, Spurs and Arsenal having done the same in recent years, there is perhaps some conceivable hope back that Villa can have a shot in the near future at bringing some success back for the fans.
It is, of course, this hope that kills you, but there have been many a summer where as Villa fans there was no hope to be had. That tide is shifting.