The past three seasons in which Aston Villa have twice finished below the accepted safety mark of 40 points, their only saving grace has been there has always been at least three worse clubs than them. With that in mind, we take a look at the clubs that are likely to provide the buffer to make sure Villa don’t even have to think about relegation this season.
As usual, the three teams that enter the English elite are often touted as relegation fodder during the season break. Leicester, Burnley and QPR were the teams to make the leap up, and on the eve of the Premier League opener, these three are the relegation favourites according to the bookmakers. So far so good, one might say., in terms of a buffer for Villa. However, let’s have a deeper look into how they may fare over the course of the season.
The Championship winners Leicester managed over 100 points last season, scoring the second most in the league whilst also conceding the third fewest. In terms of signings, £8m man Leonardo Ulloa more than matches Villa’s spending alone. Add to that ex-Birmingham player Matthew Upson and ex-Villa man Marc Albrighton, who Villa apparently could not match the wages of, and the Midlands team become one to watch.
Verdict – Should survive, but below Villa
Although entering via the playoffs, QPR’s riches mean that they can spend well above the amount Lerner is willing to fork out, on both transfers and wages. Isla, Mutch, Ferdinand and Caulker are all players who would do well at Villa, but it is unlikely we could even pay their wages. It is a serious issue when a club who has been in the top flight for the entire history of the Premier League is being outspent by the playoff winners. Dunne, Caulker and Ferdinand is also an excellent back three, and with Remy and Austin looking to strike up a partnership with Mutch in behind, QPR are likely to be the strongest promoted side.
Verdict – Relegation battle, below Villa
Burnley are perhaps the weakest team in the division, despite conceding the fewest of the promoted clubs, with 37. They have only spent around £2m, and will be relying on Ings and Jutkiewicz for goals. Firm favourites for bottom place, let’s hope they fulfill our wishes.
Verdict – Will have a problem attracting decent players to boost their chances of survival. Will drop and finish below Villa.
So, if two of the promoted teams have the real potential to survive, who’s going to finish below Villa?
Other Premier League Teams
Fortuitously for Villa fans, Pulis left Crystal Palace two days before the season starts. Although reminiscent of Martin O’Neill in 2010, this does in fact turn out to be excellent news.
Under Pulis, a somewhat average Palace side managed to defend magnificently, and were 8th if the table started from Pulis’ first day in November. All this whilst producing arguably the worst game of a generation at Villa Park on Boxing Day last year.
Verdict – To finish below Villa and potentially face the drop
West Bromwich Albion
According to the bookies, only the teams mentioned above and West Brom are more likely to go down than Villa. But it could be worse!
To be fair, Irvine has made some sound buys. Brown Ideye is a risk, certainly, but players like Gamboa, Lescott and old friend Craig Gardner are not. Throw in Pocognoli and Wisdom on loan from Liverpool and a whole new team is formed, in a similar way to how Villa’s will look at the beginning of the season.
Verdict – to finish below Villa
Obviously the much-talked about asset shedding of their key players of last year’s promising team has left the Saints potentially worrying about relegation more than a predictable mid-table finish. What hasn’t been trumpeted much is that Ronald Koeman has splashed out over £50 million in seemingly decent replacements. The likes of Fraser Forster, Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle will add potential quality, while Ryan Bertrand and Shane Long will give them Premier League know-how. The problem is will they knit together as a team? Under a manager who has zero Premier League experience, I don’t think so.
Verdict – The Saints could struggle and Villa would expect to finish above them
Has Gary Monk got it to carry the Swans across a whole season? We’ll soon find out, but he is very much part of the DNA of the current Swansea team. In his favour, he will be without the distraction of the Europa League this season, which should mean they will finish around mid-table. Sigurdsson is a a good buy (as his opening day winner against United proves) and they have still held on to Bony. Monk will hope Jefferson Montero and Bafetimbi Gomis also give the Swans a bit extra going forward.
Verdict – Will be around Villa, but should be safe from the drop
As you can see already, even in a worse case scenario, Villa should be safe from relegation before we even have to factor the likes of Hull City, Stoke and West Ham into the equation (you wouldn’t have read about those teams anyway!).
What is key to Villa’s season is how they come through the sinister six games that start in September against last year’s top six teams. Get through those with some kind of points haul and respect, then it could be a great springboard to really surprise the pundits and their predicted doom.
What Is In Aston Villa’s Favour?
Despite a summer of negativity, there is room for some positive thinking, as the open day win against Stoke shows.
Firstly, as mentioned above, the bookies place us 6th favourites to go down. Secondly, the Bomb Squad are back, by letting them play, we put out a stronger side, please the fans who have wanted them back all along (most of us, by this point), and no longer need to try to offload them to save on wages.
Well why, you may ask, did we sign Senderos, Cole and Richardson? A head-scratching moment for sure, but you can never have too much experience.
They are also experienced players who clearly want to play (judging by the Stoke game), otherwise they’d have joined a much more wage-happy club. We have more competition in the side because of this – think Hutton, Bent, N’Zogbia, Given, Stevens, plus the new signings. Okore is like a new signing. We may have offloaded quite a number of players over the summer, but players like Helenius were never really given a chance, despite the calls from fans. Sanchez’s signing on the eve of the season gives us the proven strong defensive midfielder we all hoped Sylla could be.
Finally, last season’s late introduction of Callum Robinson, and game time of Grealish over the summer, along with the return of the Bomb Squad and the signing of four experienced players, all add up to show that Lambert may be willing to change his mentality slightly, which can only be a good thing. On the other hand, it seems to suggest that Lambert still has little idea about where he wants to take his Villa side. But, this latter point is something we can worry about later on in the season…
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