How Aston Villa have gone from near relegation to Champions League contenders in 4 months

Dean Smith has shown us many emotions in 2020, from near despair in July when the extended Premier League finished to utter jubilation just a few months later when Villa destroyed champions Liverpool 7-2. What everyone wants to know is, how has Smith been able to turn things around so much and so quickly?

Aston Villa’s status that they would remain in the Premier League was only confirmed on the last weekend of last season after they drew 1-1 at West Ham. The club finished with a total of 35 points and only earned 1 more point than 18th placed Bournemouth- even the goal difference was only 1 out so everything could have changed on that final weekend.

It is interesting to note though that Villa did go their last four games of the season unbeaten quite a mean feat for a team who lost 21 games. With Villa’s participation safe for this season, from the outside it seemed as though Dean Smith’s team would be amongst the favourites to be relegated this season, a kind of well done, but maybe last seasons escapade was simply a stay of execution.

And yet here we are in November of the new season and after 8 games Aston Villa are in 6th place. They have been a regular top four side too though faced back to back defeats recently and that looked like the call for them to start slipping down the league table. Villa’s last game was away to Arsenal who have improved this season, the script had been written that Villa would now lose 3 games in a row and their 15 minutes of fame was about to be quashed. But Villa had other thoughts and out played Arsenal winning that game 3-0. Now we probably have to take Smith’s side seriously. After all they come into this weekend having already beaten Arsenal, Leicester and Liverpool.

So what has been the turn around at the club? In the summer Villa made 3 interesting buys bringing in Bertrand Traore from Lyon for £17m, Matty Cash from Nottingham Forest for £14m and Ollie Watkins from Brentford for £28m. The fee they paid Brentford for Watkins certainly raised many eyebrows, not because it felt like a steep transfer for a player playing lower league but because of the anticipation of who Villa have just had the confidence to splash that amount of money on a lower league player. And of course the fee was a club record.

Well Watkins is repaying his managers faith and has scored 6 league goals in seven appearances including a perfect hat trick against none other than Liverpool in that infamous 7-2 win over the Reds.

But while Villa were happy to splash the cash spending over £70m once you take out Watkins it has actually been the players that were already at the club that have made the most impact. Stand up Jack Grealish, a player who has been hyped for several seasons, his only problem being that he was playing in the Championship and nobody could really tell if he had the right level for the Premier League. After a debut season in the top flight which only saw flashes of his brilliance he has really turned it on for this season.

Grealish has been Aston Villa’s number 1 outstanding player so far. The midfielder has scored 4 goals and assisted in another five and his value in the fantasy football league is just 3.5m and he has amassed a total of 33 points already. He has a new found hunger and loves his free role that Smith has given him as play maker.

Ross Barkley has been another brilliant signing, the former Everton player was struggling to make an impact at Chelsea but has already done more in his work rate with Aston Villa in a few months than a few seasons at Stamford Bridge. He also grabbed an all important 3 points with the only goal when Villa beat Leicester 1-0 at King Power Stadium.

The biggest change for Villa though seems to be in their attack minded tactics. Last season the club looked to afraid to come out and just hoped to settle for draws, but with the attacking players at their disposal Smith has adopted a rule of attack first, and it seems to be working.

On the change up Smith said: “We always felt that if we retained our Premier League status, we could be more strategic in our planning this year.”

Villa certainly have been and at home they have adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Villa are playing 1 up front. All three players in midfield are very capable of switching to attack and that has been telling giving that the club have scored 18 goals so far this season, only Tottenham and Chelsea have netted more.

This weekend Aston Villa will play Brighton at home where they will be the favourites to win and if they do they would go into 2nd place, so there is all to play for and all eyes will be on Dean Smith’s side this season as they try to finish in a European place.

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Premier League Game of the Week: Aston Villa 0-3 Leeds United

Aston Villa came into this encounter with Leeds United as the only team in the Premier League that held a 100% record. This was an incredible fact given that Dean Smith’s side had only just escaped the clutches of relegation last season.

Villa also came into this game with wins over Liverpool by an incredible 7-2 that will never be forgotten in the clubs history and then beating Leicester 1-0 at King Power Stadium. Shades of their 1980s greatness were being talked about and so this game at home to newly promoted Leeds United looked like another three points. But then again Villa were not counting on Patrick Bamford.

Bamford was brilliant in the Championship for Leeds and the worry was always going to be if the player could carry that over to such a higher level as the Premier League? But after scoring 6 goals and assisting in another those doubts should be laid to rest. He was by far the man of the match in this game as he scored a hat trick in a brilliant 3-0 victory for Leeds United.

Bamford pounced on a goal keeping error to open the scoring, and if that was seen as scrappy then his 2nd goal was a beauty. On the edge of the area he seemed to lift and simply place the ball into the top corner which left everyone stunned even his team mates. That could well be contender for goal of the season.

For his 3rd goal he danced around the Villa defence as if they weren’t there and slotted home a neat goal. Had this been Lionel Messi the plaudits would be out and the headlines would be all about those 2 goals. Bamford looks like a real talent and Leeds are lucky to have him.

Leeds dominated the game and had an incredible 27 attempts on goal with 9 on those o target. Villa were not quiet themselves as they had 4 shots on target in an enjoyable game. But this was an off day for the club who later on saw the impressive Jack Grealish booked which summed up his and Villa’s day- they simply were not at the races.

The defeat leaves Aston Villa in 3rd place with 12 points but Leicester and Tottenham are right behind them. Villa next play Southampton at home. As for Leeds they have risen up to sixth position and have 10 points and that was the clubs 3rd win of the season and Marcelo Bielsa’s team will play Leicester at home next.

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Premier League Game of the Week: Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool

When final scores used to come through on television years before the internet and phones and apps, this was our only source of knowing the results and quick. When big scores came through that fact had to be reminded by spelling out the actual score. If a game was 6-0 next to the 6 would be spelt out SIX just so you knew. Doubly great if you supported the team, rubbing salt into wounds if you didn’t. This past weekend that would have been used again, only this time with a sentence of exclamation marks.

To be sure and just to remind us that we are indeed on planet Earth, Aston Villa beat Liverpool 7-2, SEVEN goals past the reigning champions, seven goals past the team who have reached the Champions League final twice in the last 3 years and won one of them, seven goals past the reigning World Club Cup holders, seven goals past a team who had gone up until the end of February last season without defeat. It was an astounding result, in an incredible game of which wrapped around it is an incredible season so far.

Liverpool were the odds on favourites to beat Aston Villa and make it four wins out of four. The script Gods had it that Liverpool would ease to victory, that the two rival Merseyside teams would be 1st and 2nd in the league, both unbeaten and would play each other next on October 17th for what would have been billed as the most important Everton-Liverpool derby in a generation. Whilst that match still remains of high interest a shine was taken off who would lose their 100% record when Villa put Liverpool to the sword at the weekend.

Had Villa beaten Liverpool in a struggling all out defending 1-0 game, that would have been seen as a surprise, after all Villa just escaped relegation last season and Liverpool finished 60 plus points in front of them. But this was an all out slaughter which to be fair was over by half time.

New signing Ollie Watkins from Brentford emerged as the hero as did Villa veteran Jack Grealish so ever criticised as being good but not as good as he thinks he is, well at the weekend both were Lionel Messi level good.

Watkins scored a hat trick in 39 minutes all in the first half and opened up the scoring for the hosts in the 4th minute. By the 22nd minute it was 2-0. In fact in 17 first half minutes Villa had put 3 goals past what should have been an impregnable Liverpool defence. Whilst it’s true that Liverpool were dearly unlucky to have lost first choice goal keeper Allison in the warm up for the game, one could well argue his absence may wouldn’t have made much difference even if Liverpool may have kept the score down with him. Adrian, his replacement was absolutely at fault for the 1st goal but he shouldn’t be made the scapegoat Liverpool all round were just very very poor.

Grealish had already provided two goals in the first half and in the 2nd half he would become goalscorer as he netted twice and even new signing Ross Barkley a former Evertonian of course scored. For Liverpool the ever dangerous Mohamed Salah tried his best and personally one couldn’t fault him here, he actually scored 2 goals himself, but these will certainly be two goals that Salah would rather forget in a hurry.

It was interesting to note that possession wise Liverpool dominated and yet conceded so many goals. What does this all mean? Was it simply a one off blip much like their 3-0 defeat at Watford last season? Was it because a couple of regulars were missing, especially captain Jordan Henderson? Was it simply a little complacency and fatigue?

As for Villa they have started the season in brilliant form and have 3 wins from three and have kept intact their own 100% start to the season even after their Liverpool test.

This season just feels unique and very much unlike any other, Villa may slump as the weeks and months take hold, but they have already looked like a team who won’t be involved in a relegation dog fight for that manager Dean Smith must be commended for his summer buys. For Klopp the international break has arrived and he will have 10 days to try and understand what just happened.

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