Season 2021/2022, An Ugly Win nets three points – Time to take stock

The international break is the perfect opportunity to measure where we are compared to last season.  Certainly, there have been plenty of changes in personnel and a whole different outlook.

Last season was a rollercoaster with us starting off by making a statement – an opening 4-game winning streak highlighted by a remarkable dissection of Liverpool at Villa Park by the score of 7-2.  The team was already coming down to earth when our talisman, Jack Grealish, was injured and lost to the team for 14 games.  His last game prior to the injury-spell (0-0 at Brighton) saw us with 35 points, 9 more than we have now.  Without Jack, we dropped from just behind the top 6 to just under the midway mark

Still, that 11th place would have been a great springboard to climb closer to European qualification, except that Manchester City was hot on Jack’s heels flashing an outlandish transfer fee offer (over $100 million) and a commensurate salary to Jack.  The temptation for our local lad to be part of the best aggregation of players in the world, to win trophies, and to escape the battering that each game for our Villans entailed, was too much.

Rather than fight the tide, Villa’s management (and ownership) made sure to find a suitable group of replacements (Buendia, Ings, Bailey, and Young).  There are no guarantees in soccer (as Manchester City found out when Grealish had a difficult time adapting).  All four new AVFC boys spent time on the injury list, making it difficult for Manager Dean Smith to create cohesion.

A difficult situation became a crisis point when inconsistent performances saw our Villans spiral into a five-game losing streak.  Management and owners decided to act before matters got worse.  They were likely emboldened by the opportunity to bring in Steven Gerrard, the Liverpool legendary player who had already established himself as the successful manager who took Glasgow Rangers back to the top of the Scottish Premier League.

The replacement of Smith by Gerrard and his coaching staff had an instant impact as Villa turned in two excellent performances, gaining six points against Brighton at home and Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.  Solid performances followed against the top tier clubs (Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea) garnered praise but no points and seemed no reason for alarm.  However, when the team took a step backwards against Brentford, Gerrard was equally decisive in seeking players that could take the team to that next level.

In the two games that Phillippe Coutinho and Lucas Digne have played, the team rallied to gain a point against Manchester United at home (coming from down 2-0) and made a goal scored just before halftime at Goodison Park stand until the final whistle against Everton.  The two new signings were directly involved in all three goals, Coutinho counting a goal and an assist, while Digne had the other assist.  A significant additional benefit they provided was the level of play they inspired from Ramsey and Buendia. Young Jacob converted a Coutinho set-up with his first Premier League at Villa Park, while Buendia scored his first Villa away goal at Everton from a whipped corner by Digne.

Ironically, all the ups and downs of this season has our Villans currently sitting in the same position as they ended last season, 11th.  However, Gerrard has 17 games left to make his mark this season and a schedule that will be to his liking.

There are only two games left against the top four teams (away to Man City and home to the Reds).  The 1-0 loss at Liverpool has the potential to be improved upon with a front three of Buendia, Watkins and Coutinho.  The team has two double fixtures against struggling teams (Leeds and Burnley).  With a little bit of good fortune, our Villans should be able to post eight wins and four ties out of the 17 games.

That would total 54 points for the season and enough to catch Brighton and secure a place in the top half of the table.  More importantly, we will have positive momentum and a solid core of players without the threat of losing our way as we did six months ago.

Owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, CEO Christian Purslow, and Manager Steven Gerrard have all proven to be winners and their combined talents and resources augur well for a rosy Villa future.

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