If you have tentatively looked ahead to Villa’s run-in to complete the 2020/21 Premier League season, you can’t help but think it’s going to be tough for Dean Smith and his Villa team. Seven of the last ten games feature teams from the current Top 10, including ties against both Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Everton (twice), Spurs and Chelsea.
The difficulty of Villa’s run-in is reflected in the Premier League odds, with 888sport quoting the team at 25/1 for a Top 4 spot, 5/1 for a Top 6 finish. That’s a lot higher than comparable teams, such as West Ham and Everton. However, in this most unpredictable of seasons, bookmakers have got much wrong already, so perhaps Villa’s long-shot status may not be their final destiny, with Jack Grealish still to return too.
Tough run-in features both Manchester clubs
Nevertheless, there is a key period on the horizon for Villa that feels like it will define the run-in and, consequently, the entire season. Coming after Easter, when Villa will certainly hope to have Grealish back in action, the team faces Liverpool (A) on 10th April, Man City (H) on 17th April, West Brom (H) on 24th April, Everton (A) on 1st May and Manchester United (H) on 8th May. Please note that these fixtures dates can – and will – change once Sky and BT Sport have had their say.
On paper, that quintet of fixtures looks enticing and unappealing in equal measure. If you take something like the Liverpool game, we know that the Reds have lost their last six league games at Anfield, but we also know of the recent history of Villa tending to be generous when teams need to end bad runs. Also, Liverpool may want revenge due to what happened in the return fixture.
On the other end of Merseyside, the Everton fixture looks like it has the potential to be one of those six-pointers for the European spots, particularly if Villa can bring some form into the match. The home match against Everton – postponed from 17th January – has yet to get a confirmed date. But getting four-six points from the double-header would really swing Villa back into contention of getting a decent finish, if they were to leapfrog such a direct rival.
European Fatigue Factor
As for the games against the Manchester clubs, we know they will be tough. While both sides boast deep squads, Villa fans will hope their exertions in Europe and the FA Cup will take their toll. City, for example, will be playing the Champions League quarter-final second leg just a few days before travelling to Villa Park. Those things will count during a season where “fatigue” has probably been the most important buzzword.
And, finally, the West Brom game. Clearly the most winnable fixture of the five. The 3-0 win at the Hawthorns in December was one of the most dominant performances of the season from Villa, but everyone knows Sam Allardyce teams can make life difficult. The Baggies still have a slim chance of escaping the drop, but it remains to be seen whether they will have something to fight for when coming to Villa Park.
Overall, while Villa will still be kicking themselves over their points haul in recent weeks (especially against the Blades), the fixture period highlighted above will dictate whether the season fades out to be one of mid-table obscurity or European dreaming. If Villa get, say, ten points from the 15 available, then the Villa players will enter the last few games with genuine momentum, confident of still fighting for a possible European place.
The most important factor will be not to allow the season to fizzle away, as it will be important to maintain the positive improvement and go into the summer and next season, as a team on the up.