Aston Villa is entering the final third of the Premier League season just a single point above the relegation zone. Whilst it could be much worse, it’s going to be a rollercoaster couple of months before we are either mathematically safe or doomed to drop back down to the Championship. There are plenty of reasons why we should be positive about survival though.
1 – McGinn to return
There’s no doubt that Villa have missed John McGinn’s presence in the middle of the park. To be honest, I think the diminutive Scot was kind of out of form as he suffered his injury. But you cannot replace the harrying and commitment that he provides in midfield.
McGinn’s absence will have been long enough for him to rested and ready for the last couple of months of a relegation battle and the boost of him coming back will surely have a positive effect on those around him.
2 – Reina and Nyland look set to push each other
Despite minimal playing time so far, Pepe Reina has looked absolute class since signing. Some crucial saves against both Brighton and Watford aside, his distribution has been a noticeable upgrade on what we have available.
That said, Orjan Nyland seems to be fighting hard for his chance in the midst of our keeper crisis and was absolutely superb stepping in for the Carabao Cup Semi-Final 2nd leg against Leicester. He’s always looked a good shot-stopper (I remember a particularly fantastic double save against Reading at Villa Park in the Championship), but since Tom Heaton was ruled out for the season, Nyland hasn’t put a foot wrong in positioning or commanding his area. Having him push Reina to keep up standards will be vital.
3 – Grealish has an England place to play for
Jack Grealish has been playing out of his skin for the majority of the season to the extent that there will now be a swell of outrage from football fans in general if he is overlooked for Gareth Southgate’s next England squad selection. There was growing clamour just before Grealish got injured during the game against Manchester City back in October which saved Southgate having to make the decision.
Right now, more than ever, he just cannot be overlooked. And Grealish knows he is knocking on the door louder than anyone else. As well as keeping his beloved Villa up, our captain also has his summer glory to fight for.
4 – And so does Mings
For me, Tyrone Mings is not quite at the standard he was earlier in the season. But you only have to look at the impact on the team during his absence through injury. Yes, there have been mistakes and a few below-par performances, but he is crucial in organising our defence. He will know though that without stepping up his form, his chance to represent England at the Euro’s could be in jeopardy.
I’d expect a strong end to the season for a player who is on the cusp of a career highlight after playing non-league just seven years ago.
5 – We now have attacking options
Even before Wesley’s season-ending injury, Villa was light upfront. Villa soldiered on through January with no striker options but now can look to Ally Samatta, Keinan Davis and Borja Baston.
Granted, it’s not a forward line that is going to put too much fear into the opposition on paper, but Samatta has looked bright so far, Davis always seems to cause problems when he’s introduced from the bench and Baston is a risk-free addition who should be fighting to make the most of a huge opportunity. They’re three different types of attacker which give us versatility and options at least.
6 – We do score goals anyway
Despite relying solely on a somewhat misfiring Wesley upfront so far, Villa can still boast the tenth best goal tally in the league so far this season. Grealish has often saved the day, but the team have been generally well supported from midfield with McGinn, Hourihane, Luiz, Trezeguet and El Ghazi all contributing at least three goals apiece. Whilst a free-scoring striker is often the difference between teams that stay up and those which suffer relegation, Villa is at least still plundering plenty of goals from other areas.
7 – Teams around us will take points off each other
Villa’s fixture run-in doesn’t look particularly friendly; we’ll play all but one of the current top ten sides in our remaining 13 matches. However, the sides around us have fixtures aplenty with each other. Whilst it would be good to have the opportunity to win a few more 6-pointers (the last day visit to West Ham could be the ultimate, however), I see it as a good thing that our relegation rivals will all nick points off each other still. Of course, we need to step up in our own fixtures to make it count.
8 – Dean Smith sides always seem to finish strongly
“I have said teams of mine usually finish the season better and I am expecting a better points haul over the second half of the season. We have to keep concentrating on the next game and trying to get three points. It is about catching the teams above you and overtaking them.”
We have seen this first hand the way Villa finished last season. It tended to happen during his time with Brentford also. Doing it in the Premier League is obviously a new challenge, but there is definitely something in the theory so far in Smith’s managerial career.
9 – We aren’t drifting like other teams
Villa currently sits joint 4th in the form table (based on points gained in the last six league games). We’ve had some shocking performances this season, none more shambolic than Watford away. But generally, we at least battle and show some fight.
We’ve come through a tough period with no striker and done pretty well considering. Compare that to West Ham, Crystal Palace and Brighton, whose point total combined during the same period is still one shy of the ten we’ve amassed. There are teams around us who are sinking fast. We’re at least splashing about with our water wings.
10 – We’ve been in worse situations than this and survived
In the 2014/15 season, after 25 games, Villa sat in 18th place with 22 points and incredibly had scored just 12 goals. Somehow, we survived that season, amassing 38 points in the process. Interestingly, that was also the season we reached the F.A Cup final, albeit losing to Arsenal, but highlighting that a cup run can spark a great run of league form too. This Villa side has much more about it than a team that contained regulars such as Kieran Richardson, Carlos Sanchez and Charles N’Zogbia. If they can do it, this group can certainly match them.
Since 2000/01 season, 38 points was enough to keep you up on all but two occasions. Aiming for 40 must be the goal still and it isn’t going to be easy. But attaining four more wins and a few draws along the way is absolutely achievable for this promising group of players. Keep the faith. Survival is possible.