Aston Villa have plied their trade in the top flight of English football for nearly 20 consecutive seasons; they are, incredibly given their current predicament, one of the UK’s most successful football teams.
They have been perilously close to the dreaded drop a few times of course; they would have gone down last season had it not been for the hot scoring streak of Christian Benteke, who netted ten in ten to maintain the Villains’ top flight status, and in the 1994/95 campaign the club finished 18th in the table – but this was the year that the Premier League was made up of 22 teams.
This campaign, with just one win and five points from thirteen matches, they look in a dire situation. So can Aston Villa defy the pundits and the punters and stay up?
Where Did It All Go Wrong?
The writing appeared to be on the wall in the summer, when the club’s three best players – Benteke, Ron Vlaar and Fabian Delph – all left for pastures new. The trio would need replacing and replacing well.
And it was here that their recruitment policy, whether driven by Tim Sherwood or somebody behind the scenes, was criminally lacking. They brought in Idrissa Gueye, Rudi Gestede, Adama Traore and the three Jordans – Ayew, Veretout and Amavi – for a combined £47 million. Think Villa have austere their way to relegation? Think again….regardless of what Sherwood may say.
And so the Villains have replaced their defensive rock, the midfielder that made them tick and a 15-goal striker with two players aged 22 and under who have never played in the Premier League (Veretout and Amavi), a midfielder who can’t get into Senegal’s squad (Gueye), a ‘marquee signing’ that was previously playing for a French mid-table side (Ayew) and a striker who netted, on average, a goal every two games in the Championship (Gestede). It doesn’t take a genius to work out where it has gone wrong for Villa.
The decision to appoint Remi Garde as Sherwood’s successor has also raised a few eyebrows; the Frenchman, who appears studious and intelligent so far, is perhaps not the kind of ranter and raver that this underperforming squad of players needs. Look at Sam Allardyce at Sunderland: he has already won two games as Sunderland boss – more than Villa all of this season.
Garde has already made his presence felt. Gestede has been banished to the bench, whilst Gueye was hauled off at half time in that 0-4 mauling by Everton. But more needs to be done if Villa are to survive: they are toothless in attack (the lowest goals tally in the division) whilst Casper the Friendly Ghost would have made more of an impression marking Gerard Deulofeu than Kieran Richardson did on Saturday. The midfield looks as conservative as can be, with Jack Grealish looking a shadow of the player that caught the eye last season. All in all, it is a recipe for disaster.
And yet….there are green shoots. They have conceded 24 goals in 13 league outings – not brilliant by any means, but that’s less than Newcastle, Sunderland and Bournemouth, the same as Norwich, one less than Chelsea and just four less than Leicester (who top the league) and West Ham (in sixth). If Garde can build on that platform then who knows what might happen.
After Villa’s 0-0 draw with Manchester City just prior to the international break, the ‘Aston Villa to Stay Up’ market was one of the most backed on Oddschecker for a couple of days running. Now, you can back them as long as 5/2 to stay up….and as short as 1/4 to go down, which speaks volumes.
Randy Lerner, the Villains’ owner, is going to have to open his cheque book again in the transfer window if his club are to right the wrongs of their summer dealings (where would they be had they signed Charlie Austin?) and change the face of history: No team in Premier League history has ever stayed up with just five points from thirteen games. Even Steve McQueen is holding his hands up to this unlikely escape.