Aston Villa have survived, which is only half the battle: the question now is whether they can push on and re-establish themselves in the Premier League…
They were the beneficiaries of a bit of luck in their first game back when VAR’s calamity helped them to a point against Sheffield United, in the end they only survived by a point and you could argue it was more the dreadful state of the three teams below them that helped, rather than their own excellence.
But Aston Villa will care little about any of that: they avoided relegation and live on to fight another season, and the consensus on this week’s Totally Football Show was that while they might not have convinced this season, they could kick on now they have survived.
“I was surprised they stayed up,” said Michael Cox. “I think they were lacking at both ends of the pitch: they haven’t had a reliable goalscorer all season, the injury to Tom Heaton meant they were without their first-choice goalkeeper.
“The one thing they’ve got is Jack Grealish. At times he’s completely carried the side. It’s been a while since there was such an impressive performer over the course of the season from a [team in the relegation battle]. It’s quite obvious he’s been the difference between them staying up and being relegated a few weeks ago.”
So even though they did only just stay up, why will they progress next year.
Duncan Alexander said: “If you can survive your first season then three other teams come up, who you should presumably be better set up than. The whole ‘second season syndrome’ thing is not really true, if you look at it.”
Michael Cox added: “There’s every chance they can push on next season.
“Villa are a big club who have historically been able to finish in the top half on a consistent basis, and in the long-term I can see that happening [again]. Whereas with great respect to Bournemouth and Watford, it felt like they were content with being 14th/15th every season. I just feel like next year, with sides like Leeds and West Brom coming up too, we’ve got some teams who add something to the party, shall we say.
“The second-half of the season from the relegated clubs was quite feeble.
Villa looked down and out around the beginning of the restart, so what happened in the interim to keep them in the division. Daniel Storey highlighted a couple of areas:
“One thing they do have is leaders: Grealish does it in the opposition half, Tyrone Mings has been doing it in their own half since the restart. I don’t think he’s a brilliant defender, and I certainly don’t think he’s good enough to be in the England side, which he was for a while in this unfathomably long season.
“But his leadership has been there. He commands that defence and drags players along. That’s probably been the difference: Bournemouth and Watford have capitulated, but Villa haven’t, even in the games they’ve lost or suffered late heartache, they’ve kind of stuck together. Which I suppose says a lot for Dean Smith’s management, because that’s the abiding theme of it.”
Michael Cox added: “Ezri Konsa deserves some credit as well. When I saw him near the start of the season he struggled, but in that 1-0 win over Arsenal in particular he was really good alongside Mings. Their defence has by and large pulled it out of the bag: even the goal they conceded against West Ham was a complete freak goal.”
The one downer at the moment would seem to be Jack Grealish, who it seems will inevitably leave. But where will he go? Daniel Storey suggested some destinations.
“Tottenham would seem a logical fit, and so would Arsenal, if they want that creative player. They don’t buy that type of player normally, but I think he’d be a great signing for Arsenal.”
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