I did think about writing blog posts about 2020, the Chelsea game and Friday night’s game against Man Utd. Thinking about what that would entail I quickly realised that could be quite a lot of work. So I am going to try to combine all three into one blog.
The most important thing is to thank you all for your support of the blog over the last year. It has been a very strange year. We are all finding it difficult in our own way and I think BB has done an excellent job at making this a friendly place to discuss Villa. Considering the miserable cnuts you all are, it just goes to show what a remarkable job BB has done and deserves a lot of credit.
Another man that has done a remarkable job in 2020 and one that deserves massive credit is Dean Smith. On Dec 31st last year Aston Villa occupied 18th place in the Premier League with 18 points from 20 games. On Dec 31st, 2020 Aston Villa occupy 5th place in the Premier League with 26 points from 14 games. To add to his remarkable achievements, just look back a further 12 months. On Dec 31st, 2018, Aston Villa sat in 9th place in the Championship behind Derby County, QPR and Birmingham City in 6th, 7th and 8th places respectively. There really is very little else that needs to be said about what Dean Smith has achieved.
Oh! and on Dec 31st last year the 3 teams below us were, sorry, there were only two teams below us, were Watford and Norwich. Both these clubs are today playing their trade in the Championship. The three teams that currently sit directly below Villa are Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City. Yes, on New Year’s Eve, the three teams immediately below us in the Premier League table are Chelsea, Spurs and Man City. Wow!!!!
During the second half of our last season in the Championship, I was told I was delusional. The reason; I said I believed Aston Villa would be promoted. We had just signed Mings which was clearly going to improve our defense and Jack was back from injury. The team had just started to turn the corner under Smith and it was crystal clear that we were on the up. So no rocket science by me! Last December a blog leader read “Delusional Smith, Thanks But Time To Go”. It went on to question our owners and what their ambition for Villa was.
There was talk about Luiz being a waste of money and that he was never a Defensive Midfield. All our players were crap and Smith couldn’t improve them. This narritive continued past Smith guiding us to PL safety against West Ham. During our transfer window in the summer, Smith was called a “Championship Manager” and could “only buy players from Brentford”. The narrative of many was anti-Smith and anti the players.
Keeping Feet On The Ground
People do get it wrong, and yes, some tend to get it wrong more often than others. But at times we all get it wrong and it is not a big deal. So what point am I making? Well, the point is that we need to keep our feet on the ground in 2021. We have had a fantastic season to date. Above, I gave some really positive stats comparing our current position to that of Dec 31st of the last couple of years. But I wasn’t comparing like with like. In the previous seasons, we had completed about half the season. Last season we had played 20 games. Six more games than we have completed today so not exactly a fair comparison. Does anyone really believe that Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City will still be below us in the table in 6 games time?
We need to be realistic about this season. We need to get away from the extreme views that our players and manager are crap. But we also need to be a little level headed and get away from the view that our squad and manager are Champions League or even top six quality. Nor should we believe splashing the cash in January to buy a couple of high-quality players will change that.
We have a very good first 11. But we are thin on the ground if we get any long-term injuries to key players. Just think what Villa would be like if Grealish, Targett, Watkins and Luiz were not available. We would suddenly be concerned about being dragged into a relegation battle. You may (correctly) think that is unlikely. But do you remember Jan 1st 2020 against Burnley last season? Injuries to Wes and Heaton put them out of football for over a year. Wes is still not back in training.
So What For 2021?
Yes, if we continue performing like we have this season for the remaining 24 games we will probably finish top 4. Even with a slight dip in our performances we could finish top 6. That would be wonderful and is possible, after all, didn’t Leicester do it. I would absolutely love it to happen but unfortunately I don’t expect it to happen. However, I am concerned by the expectations of some fans. If we fall off a bit from our current performance levels and finish, say 12th. Will fans see that as an abject failure? At the start of the season I suspect the majority of fans would have bitten your arm off for a 12th place finish. If that happens now will fans then turn sour against the club, the manager and the players? Just like they did 12 and 24 months ago!
If we are lucky with injuries then I expect we will finish top half. Maybe we can take Sheffield United’s 9th place finish from last season. This would be a huge success for Dean Smith and Aston Villa. It would also give us a strong foundation to build on for the following season. If things go really well for us I think 7th is open to us and that could give us a ticket to Europe next season. This would be dreamland stuff for me. If we want to really get into ‘a night with Karen’ type fantasies then yes, we can finish top 4. But I would give us as much chance of finishing top 4 as I would give myself of scoring with Karen. I won’t tell you which I would choose 😎.
Our Chelsea Performance
I am running out of plaudits to give Smith and his players after each game. The Baggies was a Masterclass performance with 10 men. The Chelsea performance was at another level again. Baggies are a Championship team and are crap. Chelsea is an elite team with a magnificent squad and it is 18 years since we experienced victory at The Bridge. Chelsea was the better team and should have won the game. But Smith’s Villa showed the mental toughness to come away with a point. And it could have easily been 3 points, only for the woodwork denying McGinn and Ramsey just putting inches wide.
All teams can have a one-off result. Our 7-2 was a one-off result. Baggies holding Liverpool to a 1-1 the other night was a one-off result. The 1-1 draw at The Bridge was not a 0ne-off result. It was a proper ‘grown-up’ result. It was a draw earned by a good team, playing good football and having the mental toughness to grind out a great result. To repeat what I said in the last blog post: Thank you, Dean Smith!
Man Utd Next
Maybe it is my age and the fact that I experienced the entire tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson at Man Utd. But Man Utd is my big boggy team. Getting a result against Man Utd is like getting blood from a stone. I find it difficult to look towards any game against them with any degree of confidence. Liverpool dropping points against The Baggies and now against The Toon have made matters worse. The door to the top of the Premier League has just been opened for Man Utd and I expect they will be highly motivated to seize their opportunity.
Man Utd may have had their struggles over the last few years but as an attacking force there are few better than them in the league. I would only put Liverpool ahead of them and only slightly. Rashford, Cavani, Greenwood, Martial and Fernandez would probably walk into any Premier League team. Our defence is going to have to be on best form to keep them at bay. Thankfully we will have Mings back for the game, he is a quality player and will add some much needed experience to our team.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the Man Utd defence coupled with our excellent attacking prowess. Ollie Watkins has the ability to run rings around Harry Maguire. Jack Grealish has the ability to run rings around any player in world football today. Add Ross Barkley, Traore, McGinn and super sub El Ghazi 😉 to the mix and we have the ability to cause any team problems. Offer me a draw now and I would happily take it. But, with my claret and blue glasses on I want the 3 points which would lift us to 3rd in the Premier League table and on course for our Top 4 finish.
Team Selection Against Man Utd
This is about the most difficult team selection this season. We have done so well recently and the players have done everything asked of them. But I am now suggesting we drop (rest) both 5 in 5 ElGhazi and Hause and bring in Barkley and Mings. I think it is essential to start with Mings. He is a quality defender, our vice captain and also he has had a rest when the rest were playing Chelsea.
I think Barkley is just such a good player he needs to start if he is fit. We will need him in the middle if we want to take something from this game. Dropping El Ghazi for Traore probably seems a little unfair. But I just think that Traore will cause more problems against Man Utd than El Ghazi will. Anwar can come on as a sub to get his 6th in 6 games for us.
What The Bookies Think
Interestingly the bookies had Villa at ever so slightly longer odds against Chelsea than they do against Man Utd. So they think we have more of a chance tomorrow night than we did on Tuesday. Considering that we got a point against Chelsea I am happy with that.
Man Utd win: 8/11
Villa win: 19/5
Where And When To Watch
I like Friday night games and that is exactly what we have in store for us tomorrow. It is an 8pm kick off (UK & Ireland) and a midday kick off in Vancouver. As kick-off is in the ‘pm’ in Vancouver, a beer (or more) with the game is perfectly acceptable. And as it is New Year’s day it is probably advisable to help with the hangover from the previous night (technically tonight). Coverage is on SkySports so the build-up will be extensive and is commencing at 7pm (11am Canada).
I am really looking forward to this game and would dearly love to start 2021 with 3 points from Old Trafford and 3rd place in the Premier League.
Happy New Year
Finally, I would like to say Happy New Year to each and every one of you and your families. After the shyte year we have had with Covid, I can’t see anything else but a better 2021 than 2020. I hope you all have a wonderfully happy and healthy year and that Aston Villa does the unthinkable and repeats the ‘once in a lifetime’ exploits of Leicester of five years ago.