Five Reasons to be Cheerful After Back-to-Back Midlands Wins
By Armen Mirzoian
It is likely that if you’re reading this column, then you’ve had an excellent Easter weekend. After securing their third win within a week, Villa find themselves in nosebleed territory sitting in sixth place. Assuming we’re all already cheerful, here are five further reasons to widen our grins after a comfortable win against Nottingham Forest.
1. Skin in the Game
The midweek match against Leicester City was a throwback to a familiar feeling from many moons ago. Neurons that hadn’t been activated in fifteen years suddenly sprung to life. Distant images of Zat Knight’s late equaliser against Arsenal on Boxing Day came to the fore, as suddenly Villa were on the big stage again. For fifteen years the club has battled relegation, promotion and then relegation again, which is why the Leicester game felt like a significant moment.
Having beaten Chelsea, it was a moment to show the league and Villa fans that we’re a different animal under Emery. The late Traoré winner had fans in ecstasy, as Villa leapfrogged sides in the top half in a fashion that they hadn’t experienced since O’Neill’s final season.
The win against Forest further cemented the fact that Villa are firmly in a European battle, and how refreshing it is to have something postive to play for with eight games remaining.
2. Tip of the Icebert
To say that Bertrand Traoré is a unique talent would be an understatement. Along with wingers the world-over, he can be frustrating for 85 minutes but can then produce a dribble, flick, pass or strike to alter the course of a game. Although, his season has somewhat faded of late, Leon Bailey can also have an explosive effect on games. Yet, Traoré’s style of play is truly unique; for both goals this week fans knew it was a goal the moment he struck the ball. Much like the finish against West Brom, the guile with which he strikes or, at times, glides the ball past the keeper is a joy to watch when it comes off.
The purpose of this ‘reason to be cheerful’ is to highlight the gulf between our previous manager and the current. We can discuss formations, midfield roles, attacker positions as all have seen vast re-organisation and improvement but few things can highlight the mis-management we witnessed as the mis-use of Bertrand Traoré.
It was clear during Villa’s awful run at the end of last season, that a likely scenario would see our wingers banished and subsequently Gerrard losing his job leaving a squad only capable of playing narrowly. It was a mistake to allow a player that, while frustrating, can win and has won games for the club.
Rather than spending a fortune in January, Emery chose to bring back our expensive asset and put him to effective use. The Traoré redemption arc is the latest example of how much safer we are under Unai than our previous manager.
3. Fate in our Hands
On one hand, Villa’s remaining fixtures appear difficult and could worry fans that we have peaked at the lofty heights of 6th place. However, finishing sixth in the Premier League is an achievement reserved for very strong sides and Villa still have a say about their final position.
With matches against Newcastle, Brentford, Fulham, Manchester United, Wolves, Spurs, Liverpool and Brighton remaining; Villa’s run in, while difficult, is also one that provides huge incentive and allows the players to control their destiny.
Facing away ties at relegation scrapping sides might seem easier on the face of it, but the away game at Leicester demonstrated how tricky these fixtures can be. If Villa want European football, then what better way of achieving it then by beating their rivals to secure it.
4. Summer Possibilities
Given the pursuits of Kamara and Durán took place over the course of several months, it is fair to assume that Villa are already in conversation with the agents of Emery’s summer targets. For years, we have had wealthy owners, who have spoiled managers and fans alike with signing after signing. There has, however, felt like a ceiling to the talent that Villa could attract.
Gerrard’s name could attract a talent like Kamara, a name like Coutinho and a solid international like Digne, but given the performances under him that pull would not have lasted for too long. It is likely that Emery has as good if not a stronger global pull but with the club sitting in 6th place, Villa can finally break through the ceiling and sell the vision of the owners.
Finishing in the top-half alone would make the story of the inevitable Villa rise more plausible and attract a higher calibre of player.
A European spot, however, would undeniably open up channels that have been firmly closed on the club for over a decade.
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Villa kindly kept 11th place very warm for Chelsea and with Liverpool sitting in 8th, it becomes clear to see why the Super League Six wanted to run away and bolt the door behind them. Their party is coming to an end. Teams like Leicester City and West Ham have knocked on that door in recent years and have eventually ended up hitting a brick wall.
This season however, the challenge of the Saudi-led Geordies and Aston Villa have the financial clout to upset the apple cart. In addition to Chelsea and Liverpool’s struggles, it is looking likely that either Spurs or Manchester United will also miss out on the Champions League promised land. Sides like Brentford and Brighton put most of the league to shame, when it comes to efficiency and recruitment but whether they can sustain long term assaults on the top four without falling back like Leicester and West Ham remains to be seen.
Newcastle and Villa will spend big this summer and with competent managers at the helm, and steady ownership up above, there is reason to believe that the Top Six cartel may have had its day in the sun.
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