Dean Smith’s Aston Villa are certainly enjoying the rollercoaster of a season they are currently experiencing, as they sit in eighth and have two games in hand to still play. At the moment, they are only six points off fourth-place Chelsea, and with the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur having quite the on and off campaign, it would not be a total surprise to see some of the mid-table teams making a breakthrough of their own and finishing in the top half of the league.
Having a glance at the Premier League table, the competition and race to finish in the Champions League and Europa League has been exciting and thrilling for the neutrals, purely because of the fact that Liverpool are having a below-par campaign, and Manchester City have had a slow start at the beginning of the season, two main teams who are normally sky high above the rest of the league.
As we have already passed gameweek 24 of the league campaign, there is enough time for further disappointments and upsets to be produced, which could work in the favour for a football club like Aston Villa, who have not finished in the top half of the Premier League since the 2010/11 season. In the meantime, the Villains will be looking to take it one game at a time from now till the very end.
So, the main question now is; what are the key factors behind Aston Villa’s incredible season so far?
The Jack Grealish show
Having directly contributed to 16 out of Aston Villa’s 36 league goals, Jack Grealish is on the form of his life as he is showing to be one of the best players in both the Premier League and in Europe. With his ability to dominate down the left flank, his pure quality to create key chances after key chances with ease, and being regarded as the most fouled player in Europe, he’s getting the weekly attention and well-deserved praise that he should have been receiving a very long time ago, in all honesty.
Since the lack of goals was a huge issue for the club in their battle for survival last season, Aston Villa have managed to impressively improve on this department with the arrivals of Ollie Watkins and Ross Barkley, who have the perfect understanding with Grealish. And because of this magnificent trio, especially due to the club captain, the side have been able to demolish Liverpool at home as well as confidently beat the likes of Arsenal, Crystal Palace, Fulham and West Brom this term.
Second best defence in the league, joint with Chelsea
One of the few areas that the side were very poor at handling in the previous campaign was the defensive phase, as the Villains conceded 65 league goals throughout the Premier League 2019/20 season, with only 20th place Norwich City conceding more goals than them. However, six months or so forward, Dean Smith’s men have the second best defence in the league along with Chelsea, clearly demonstrating how far they have come, from losing 1-6 at home to Man City, losing 1-4 at home and 4-0 away to Leicester last season, to conceding 24 goals in 22 league games so far this campaign.
The side’s defensive improvement does correlate with the first factor, the Jack Grealish show, as both himself and Ollie Watkins are superb at holding up the ball in the final third of the pitch, leading to the team protecting the ball high up the pitch and conceding less chances. Not only that, but with the crucial arrivals of Emiliano Martinez and Matthew Cash in the summer, as well as the consistent displays of Ezri Konsa, Matt Targett and Tyrone Mings, the side have a proper unit in the backline.
Emiliano Martinez is proving to be a superb signing
Emiliano Martinez, who arrived at Villa Park in mid-September from Arsenal, is proving to be worth every single penny of the £17million fee that the Villains had paid for the Argentine shot-stopper. The 28-year-old has kept the second most clean sheets (12) and the fourth most saves (84) in the Premier League, showing how much impact and influence an individual can provide on his own, as he continues to show that his former club have made a mistake in preferring Bernd Leno over him.
If Martinez can remain consistent from now till the end of the season as well as help Aston Villa to a finish in the top half of the league table, it would not be an actual surprise to see him being mentioned as one of the few goalkeepers to be placed into the Premier League Team of the Season. Not only that, with the current Argentina squad consisting of goalkeepers such as Franco Armani, Agustin Marchesin and Esteban Andrada, Emilino Martinez most certainly deserves a regular call up and should be the main option as the country’s number one keeper, especially with his fine form.