This Premier League season has given the middle ranking teams in the division hope for the future – hope that they could ‘do a Leicester City’ and launch a surprise title challenge. But the plight of Aston Villa should be a warning to those same sides, and some of the ones above as well.
It’s not that long ago that Villa were among a clutch of clubs in contention for a Champions League place. That they will start next season in the Championship instead is a legacy of years of mismanagement – of selling the team’s most important players and not re-investing that money in the squad, of spending money poorly when it was spent, and of regrettable managerial appointments that were more intended to manage the team’s decline, not taking it to the next level.
Villa, from European football under Martin O’Neill, now belong to the likes of Swindon Town, Sunderland and Derby County as the worst teams, on a points basis, to feature in the Premier League. A confused management structure, an uninterested owner, an unbalanced squad and the wrong man in the dugout have all culminated in an inevitable – but not unavoidable – drop to the second tier.
The fate of the Midlands club was sealed long before relegation was confirmed. The writing was on the wall for some time, and for some clubs, the beginning of the same process can be seen. Action needs to be taken now to avoid following the same path, with Stoke City, Swansea City and Crystal Palace all offering warning signs, though it’s Everton who should be most concerned.
Everton and Villa engaged in some epic encounters when David Moyes and O’Neill sat on the respective benches. They’re now separated by some 25 points, Villa rock bottom of the table and the Toffees hovering in mid-table. There were only nine points between them in 2014-15, when Everton finished 11th and Villa 17th, down from the 34 of 2013-14, Roberto Martinez’s first year at Goodison Park. Everton racked up 72 points then – in the two seasons to follow, they’ve managed only 16 more than in that one campaign.
The Blues’ FA Cup run, ended on Saturday in semi-final defeat to Manchester United, shouldn’t cloud the assessment – this is a team in trouble. No wins in seven games, no clean sheets in seven games, only four home league wins all season – Villa the only team with fewer – and only nine clean sheets in 34 league games are troubling statistics. Then there’s the signing of striker Oumar Niasse, a purchase of almost £14m with no starts and no goals since January, and concern over the future of John Stones and Romelu Lukaku. For them, read Fabian Delph and Christian Benteke.
Everton’s potential slide to Villa-like depths is still at the avoidable stage. There is still time for owner Bill Kenwright and new investor and major shareholder Farhad Moshiri to arrest the decline. Doing so won’t be easy – and it will start with a new manager – but it can be done. And it has to be, otherwise next season it could be Everton who do a Villa.