The International break is giving manager Steve Bruce his first considerable amount of time with his players since the transfer window shut nearly a week ago so we can return to league action (finally).

After tinkering with the squad every transfer window since relegation, the club has added quality and experience to the ranks and boasts arguably the best squad in the Championship.

The league is littered with big clubs unable to escape from the clutches of the second division’s grip. It’s full of battle-hardy teams are full of grit and determination, games are attritional and dogged, tough and fierce.

Benitez made Newcastle strong in this leagueThe cream naturally rises the top. Come to the end of the season, the teams near the higher ends of the league will be those that don’t necessarily contain the best individuals. Take Brighton and Huddersfield last year. What they had were great team spirit and morale, positive coaching and the ability to find a way to win.

It won’t surprise many to see that last year’s top 2, Newcastle United and Brighton, had the highest goal differences in the division. Newcastle had a positive aggregate of 45, Brighton 34. The next two highest were Fulham on 28 and Norwich on 16. Strangely though, it seems that this isn’t an obvious measure of success. Yes, those with the higher goal differences were higher up the league. However, Huddersfield actually had a negative goal difference of -2 and still gained promotion via the play off’s. Whereas the third placed team, Reading, had a paltry plus 4 differential. Villa’s -1 could surely have been competitive.

However, Huddersfield actually had a negative goal difference of -2 and still gained promotion via the play off’s. Whereas the third placed team, Reading, had a paltry plus 4 differential. Villa’s -1 could surely have been competitive.

It’s not even a case of relying on defense as being a key factor. Only three teams conceded fewer goals than Aston Villa last term. Relegated Wigan Athletic conceded fewer goals than Huddersfield and the same number as Fulham. Of the 24 teams in the table, only 3 weren’t conceding an average of more than 1 goal a game.

Bruce will have a big part to playWhat is crucial for Aston Villa’s promotion aspirations this season is finding a way to win the games that we drew far too often last season and having a greater goal contribution from more players. This will in part come down to Steve Bruce’s ability to tactically outsmart our competitors and finding a way to win tight games. It will also come down to the midfield and wide players chipping in with more goals.

We saw Conor Hourihane score a hat-trick in our last home game before the break. It’s now up to his team-mates to rise to the challenge and to get on the score-sheet. Last season, Grealish was the second highest scorer with 5. If Villa is to get anywhere near the top 6, we need a group of players scoring 5-10 goals with the strikers achieving 25+ between them.

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