There’s positive energy around Villa Park these days. Grealish might have left, sure, but that was always going to happen. In any case, his move to Manchester City doesn’t have to signal the end of the road for this Villa team. They’re just getting started! Though it’ll be a big ask, you have the feeling that, behind the scenes, Villa will be quietly hoping they can secure a European place this season. It would, of course, signal a massive achievement, a testament to Dean Smith’s leadership and the board.
But how likely is it that this will happen? Let’s take a look.
Europe: The Europa League or the Europa Conference League
Realistically, Aston Villa will be aiming to qualify for the Europa League or the Europa Conference League. Villa will need to finish fifth in the Premier League or win the FA Cup to secure passage to the Europa League. Of the two, the FA Cup is more likely — but even that is pretty unlikely. They haven’t won the competition since 1957, so the only people backing Villa to lift the trophy this season will be those using a free bet offer. Winning the EFL Cup sounds more achievable, especially since the “bigger clubs” don’t take this tournament as seriously as others. Lifting that trophy in February would put the club in the Europa Conference League the following season.
Dean Smith’s Development
Of course, no matter what route the club takes into Europe, they’ll still need to win plenty of football games. The good news for Villa is that they’ve got a manager at the helm who is increasingly showing that he knows how to win football matches. Smith took home the ‘Manager of the Month’ award in December, but if they assessed managers by slightly different criteria, he could have got the manager of the season award. His progress at Villa has been pretty remarkable. Today, Villa are playing exciting football, and that’s just the kind of play that can push a side towards Europe.
Solid in Defence
Aston Villa have a generally attacking mindset, but, of course, that’ll count for little — in terms of winning games — if your defence is leaking in goals left, right, and centre. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case for some time. Smith has put together a solid defensive unit. The key players are Martinez in goal and Mings at the back, who leads with all the authority required to win games. Konsa does an excellent job partnering with Mings, while young Matty Cash has put in performances that show a level of maturity that is way beyond his years.
The Rise of Ollie Watkins
You have to love the Ollie Watkins story. He’s done his time in the lower leagues, and now he’s in the big leagues! In his first Premier League season, he managed 14 goals in 37 games, which is far from a terrible return. And now, you imagine that he’s going to kick on and bag even more goals. It takes time, after all, to get used to the pace of the Premier League. With one season under his belt, could he push for twenty goals? He’d be the first Villa striker in, well, a long time to hit that tally — but at only 25, Watkins has time on his side. He and Danny Ings will get plenty of goals this campaign.
Of course, the side does have some weaknesses. They can struggle with consistency. The squad is small, and there’s no avoiding that Grealish will be a big loss. But there’s a belief in this team that hasn’t been seen in a Villa squad for many a year. When it comes to the business end of the season, that confidence can be the difference between making it over the line and falling short. The teams around them also have their weaknesses, so why can’t Villa snag a European spot?