Having started the season playing five games unbeaten, a run that saw them reach the giddy heights of third place, Villa have come crashing back down to earth as they play five games against last season’s top five teams. They nicked three points away at Liverpool but the results since then have been grim:
- A 0-3 loss at home against Arsenal.
- A 0-3 loss away to Chelsea.
- A 0-2 loss at home to Manchester City.
It’s Monday, we’ve fallen to tenth place, and yet I remain sanguine. What’s wrong with me? Have I learned nothing from last year? Have I been drinking Paul Lambert’s Kool-aid, which is an elixir of optimism brewed with three parts denial and flavored with a whisker from Roy Keane’s mighty beard?
Well, look. With Weimann playing as a lone striker against Man City in the absence of an ailing Agbonlahor, I didn’t expect us to score any goals. Benteke’s just getting back and will need some minutes to find his feet. And Villa defended brilliantly for 80 minutes against a top-flight attack. We came within a hair’s breadth of taking a useful point.
Against Chelsea, hell, they actually didn’t look too bad for a team ravaged by a virus. Against an in-form Diego Costa, the scoreline could have been far worse. And we played Arsenal without Vlaar or even the vastly improved Baker.
What’s wrong with me? Have I
learned nothing from last year?
Here’s why I think this season will be better, and why I think a tenth-place finish is an eminently achievable building block:
- This year’s defense is still much better than last year’s defense. Once Vlaar and Senderos are side by side again, with Baker as a capable substitute, they’re going to be tough to unlock. (And, who knows, we might even see Okore on the field again!)
- They have played well for large parts of the games they’ve lost, pressuring the offense and fighting to regain lost balls.
- The midfield is beginning to gel, to pass and hold possession better than we’ve seen for a few seasons.
- Benteke is back. He will score some of the goals we’re sorely needing.
- Roy Keane’s beard is really impressive. Put this one under “intangibles.”
I would expect us to be outclassed by teams possessing individual players who cost more than our whole starting eleven. Last year, we overperformed against the top four teams and underperformed against everybody else. I suspect that this will be the year when we invert that formula, taking our beatings like everybody else from the top sides, but beating more of the teams we should beat. (Hear that, Palace? We’re not your punching bags anymore!)
And with two weeks to prepare for a trip to a sputtering Everton—time for Benteke to heal and build his strength—things really don’t look that bad. Villa has already proven that they enjoy playing in the city of Liverpool!