Aston Villa: the next Leicester?

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Aston Villa started the 2020/21 premier league season as one of the favourites to face relegation, with thepools.com giving them odds of 2/1 to drop down to the Championship. However, after four games, The Lions remain the only team in England with a 100% record. During this run, Villa have beaten the reigning champions, Liverpool, 7-2 and have amassed the best goal difference in the league. So, what is going on in sunny Birmingham and is it sustainable?

Villa have undoubtedly improved. The club had a strong summer transfer window, spending £74.12 million according to transfermarkt. This spending has brought exciting talent to a team that desperately needed it.

Ollie Watkins, who signed from Brentford for £27.2 million, is proving to be a relative bargain. Watkins has scored three goals and assisted one in his four games, playing every minute. Emiliano Martinez, the goalkeeper who signed from arsenal for £15.6 million, is also proving to be a great signing, keeping three clean sheets in his four games and conceding only against the attacking firepower of Liverpool.

This spending has brought exciting talent to a team that desperately needed it.

The signings of Ross Barkley from Chelsea and Bertrand Traoré from Lyon have helped to realise a culture shift that manager Dean Smith has been attempting to implement since his appointment in October 2018. Smith wanted to move Villa away from a brutish, defensive team to a more attacking one. This mindset served Villa well in the Championship and appears to have finally been realised in the Premier League.

The key to realising Smith’s desire for a more attacking brand of football has been Villa’s star man, Jack Grealish. There was a time when the best attribute Grealish possessed was his hair, however this season he is emerging as a genuine talent. Scoring three goals and assisting a further three, Grealish has embraced the mantle of talisman in his team. Whether the reason for this improvement is the careful nurturing of Dean Smith, or Grealish becoming more mature as a player and leader, Villa fans will be glad to have their man in Birmingham.

Despite this clear improvement, the sustainability of Villas title hopes is doubtful. The club is currently 66/1 to win the league, with bigger clubs who have hitherto underperformed still favourites to lift the trophy. With all due credit to Villa, their rise may be at least in part to the pandemic through which they are playing.

With fans notably absent from stadiums, Premier League teams no longer fear the electric and often hostile atmospheres in stadiums, making away games a less dauting task and one they can approach with more ambition and positivity. As a result, the league table looks stranger than it has since Leicester won it all back in 2016.

Scoring three goals and assisting a further three, Grealish has embraced the mantle of talisman in his team.

The need to deal with restrictions may have distracted the high wage superstar divas at other clubs, who need more adjustment to silence when they play. The atmosphere, or lack thereof, around football suits players like Watkins and Grealish who are more used to working hard every game, regardless of the occasion.

The crucial point for Villa could be the reintroduction of fans. Equally, it could be how quickly players in other clubs can adjust to the new normal. Although fans returning to stadiums seems impossible for the near future, bigger clubs adjusting is only a matter of time. Consequently, Villa’s gradual decline is almost inevitable.

The Lions lack the squad depth to continuously fight with the big clubs, and soon the shock factor of the club punching above their weight will vanish. Clubs will begin treating Villa with more respect and as a result, could find coming away with three points easier.

Aston Villa’s 100% record is a far cry from Arsenal’s 2003/04 invincible season, and they don’t appear to have the talent required to be the new Leicester either. While Villa are likely safe from the drop after only four games, with the current bottom four most likely to suffer relegation, I wouldn’t recommend putting the mortgage on Grealish and Co. lifting the trophy at the conclusion of the season.

Image: Paul Becker via Flickr

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