It is no secret that Aston Villa have impressed since Unai Emery’s arrival last season, as their form since he took charge has been nothing short of unbelievable.
Emery has taken Villa from being a team threatened by relegation, to one currently competing for a spot in the top 4 of the Premier League, whilst also sitting joint top of their Europa Conference League group.
So, just how far can Villa go this season? Will they continue to be competitive in the top 6, or even the top 4 spots of the Premier League, and will they be able to emulate West Ham’s success in the Europa Conference League?
Goals coming from all over the pitch
One of the main differences when comparing the Villa of recent to the Villa under Steven Gerrard is the rate that goals go in, and the vast amount of players they now have that find themselves on the scoresheet.
Villa have found themselves scoring a fair few times this season, hitting the back of the net 26 times in the Premier League alone so far, just two goals behind the league’s top scorers, Man City.
The main culprits of Villa’s scoring efforts have actually been at the club for a while now. Ollie Watkins and, surprisingly, Douglas Luiz, have both found the back of the net 5 times this season.
Whilst it may be expected of Ollie Watkins to be on these kinds of numbers so far, but what is a big surprise, is the 5 assists Watkins has racked up in the Premier League. This is something that is missing from most out-and-out strikers‘ games these days, but Watkins is showing there is a way to score and assist.
Luiz is a big surprise. Although 3 of Luiz’s goals may have been from the penalty spot, it shows he is being given the license to roam forward when needed, and he is not shy to take a shot.
The goals do not stop there either, with Leon Bailey and summer signing Moussa Diaby on 3 goals each. It is so important for any team to have their wide men chip in with goals every now and then, but with the pace of these two, on the counterattack, their numbers could hit double figures this season.
Some of the other players who have scored for Villa this season are quite a surprise. Right back Matty Cash, who had only scored 4 goals in over 90 games previously for Villa, sits on 2 goals, alongside midfielder John McGinn and Duran.
This is one of the things that makes Villa so dangerous this season. With the ball, they are just as deadly as any other team in the league. They can control the possession, score goals from range with Luiz and McGinn, thread Watkins through, or have Diaby and Bailey on the break.
Watkins will be trying to prove himself before the Euros, as the striker will be desperate for a spot in Southgate’s squad, which should lead to some high numbers from the Englishman this season.
Quality of players brought in
There is no doubt that Villa already had a strong squad. With the likes of Watkins, Bailey, Luiz and a World Cup winning goalkeeper in Martinez, it would be hard to discredit their quality.
But this season, Villa have taken that to the next level. After trimming some of the deadwood, and fringe players who did not really have a chance of playing for them, such as Wesley, Archer, Young and Nakamba, they brought in some really exciting players.
They did not spend big, and instead looked to improve key areas of their squad. Villa brought in Youri Tielemans on a free transfer after leaving relegated Leicester, whilst also bringing in Zaniolo on loan from Galatasaray, and loaning Clement Lenglet from Barcelona.
Pau Torres joined Lenglet in swapping the Spanish sun for some time in Birmingham, but on a permanent deal instead, whilst Moussa Diaby joined from German side Leverkusen.
Villa went from relying on Tyrone Mings to having players arrive at the club who had played in Europe’s elite competitions, a much needed improvement if they were to make the step up.
So, with the brilliant squad Villa have built, and the expansive, attacking football Emery has them playing, just how far can they go?
In terms of the Premier League, it will be a tough ask for them this season. City and Arsenal look strong again, Spurs and Liverpool are back to their best and are competing at the top end of the table and Newcastle will want another top 4 finish.
Not to mention if United and Chelsea manage to get their seasons back on track they could be within a shout, whilst Brighton are always dark horses to finish in the top 6.
Villa will have to be consistent throughout the entire season if they have any hopes of a Champions League spot, but they may have to settle for top 6, as they have already shown they are there for the taking.
They have already lost against Newcastle and Liverpool so far this season, and have not beaten a side that currently sits in the top 6. They need to learn how to get points in these big games, otherwise, they will quickly get left behind.
In terms of the Europa Conference League, everyone saw how West Ham struggled to stay in the Premier League last season, whilst winning the Conference League. Villa will be hoping they can do one better this season, and have so far coped better than the Hammers in terms of balancing Europe with the Premier League.
They have already started well in Europe itself too. They dismantled Hibernian 8-0 on aggregate, and after losing their opening group stage game against Legia Warsaw, they have won 3 group games on the bounce, and sit joint top of their group.
Watkins already sits on 5 goals in the European competition as well, and his form could be crucial to Villa going far. To this point, they have played relatively easy teams, but the further they go, the more chance they have of coming up against some of Europe’s bigger sides.
Villa should go far though. Their squad is big enough, and good enough, to progress deep in the competition, and Emery is fantastic when it comes to playing in Europe, having won European titles with Sevilla and Villarreal in the past.
Whatever happens, it will sure be an entertaining ride for Aston Villa and their fans, and it will be exciting to see their style of play develop over the course of the season. The January transfer window could decide whether they are in this race for the long run.