Aston Villa's Dream Run: From Struggles to Title Contention
|John McGinn of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Aston Villa and Arsenal FC at Villa Park on December 09, 2023 in Birmingham, England.(Image-Getty)
In October of last year, depression engulfed Villa Park. Aston Villa were hovering around the relegation zone with 12 points from 12 matches. A struggling team under Steven Gerrard was then looking for a way out. In the end, the coach who is primarily responsible for the team's poor performance has to be the scapegoat. Gerrard was fired. Spanish coach Unai Emery replaced the Liverpool legend.
There was no shortage of whispers about Emery's arrival at Villa Park. Arsenal failed to return to the Premier League last time. There was also the fear of having to fall into the same situation this time. But the morning sun brought a positive message. Aston Villa gave a message to turn around after defeating Manchester United 3-1 in their first match. From that match, the next year passed like a dream for the club.
Since that match against United, Aston Villa have collected 81 points in 40 games under Emery. Only three teams - Manchester City (90), Arsenal (89) and Liverpool (85) - have taken more points than Villa in the last 13 months or so. And the biggest evidence of their superiority was in the match against Manchester City last week. City didn't just lose to Villa that day; Pep Guardiola's team had to face some rather shameful statistics.
Emery's team gave City new experience in multiple statistics that day. Villa won possession 13 times in City's attacking third in that match. City have not seen such an event under Guardiola before. Aston Villa had 20 more shots than City on the day (Villa 22, City 2), something that never happened against Guardiola.
It has left Guardiola, who won the treble last season, in such an existential crisis that he has to say, 'I have to prove again that I am a good coach.' Quite strange! The team that seemed invincible even a few days ago. Aston Villa put the City against whom winning the match was one of the most difficult tasks in the world. They can even surprise top-placed Arsenal tonight at 11.30pm.
The question is what happened in the last year that the relegation-threatened team changed so radically?
Aston Villa's transformation can be attributed to various factors, including field play, planning and players' dedication. But keeping these things aside, the team has changed basically a dream of a man. As Emery said last October, 'Dream, always.' Yes, a team can't rise from the bottom like this without dreaming. However, if someone wants to spend money, they have done it. But there was no jingle of money behind Aston Villa's rise.
The party has reached the position it is today mainly because of dreaming and exhausting themselves to make that dream come true. Where they have won 14 consecutive matches at home. In total, Villa won 10 out of 15 Premier League matches, the highest since the 1980-81 season. Seber, however, also took home the Villa league title. Maybe no one is talking about winning their title right now; Rather, there is more talk about the possibility of playing in the Champions League from the top four. But the reality is that they can win the title if they go on like this. They are only 4 points behind the top team after 15 matches. Aston Villa's third-placed 32 points against Arsenal's 36 points.
It is true that the battle for the title in the Premier League goes until the last minute. Where Man City, Liverpool or Arsenal know how to win. They also know how to forget failure and come back. So it will be challenging for Villa to stay in the running at the end. But what they have achieved so far is not less. To be ahead of United, Chelsea, Newcastle, Brighton, Tottenham and above all Man City after 15 matches is certainly a great achievement. Especially the way Emery is playing the team is very exciting.
It was just four years ago that Aston Villa were a Championship side. Even just five years ago the existence of the club was under threat. The club was plagued with several other problems, including not being able to pay £4.2 million in taxes. However, in 2019, they managed to sustain themselves in the Premier League again. However, in the next two seasons, they had to struggle to survive. Relegation was narrowly averted in the drama of the final days of the 2019-20 season. The following season, the position was at number 11. Then had to struggle in the 2021-22 season. And last season too, it reached the door of relegation. From there, Emery rescued Aston Villa by replacing the legendary Gerrard. Aston Villa made an incredible comeback to finish the season in 7th place. Gets a chance to play in the Europa Conference League.
The first thing Emery had to do in taking over was to correct a number of mistakes made by Gerrard. Supporters were unhappy with Gerrard's several decisions. One of which was taking away the captaincy from the injured Tyrone Mingus, which many felt was a harsh decision. Coming to the team, Emery had to correct those wrong decisions as well as fix his own course.
Europa League poster man Emery (who has made four finals in the European competition and won the title three times) must have wanted to erase his past Premier League experience. But without looking at the trophy cabinet, there is no chance to say that the way Emery played Arsenal was a complete failure. Arsenal were undefeated for 22 matches under him. Although in the end he had to lose his job after 7 matches without a win. Besides, another credit should be given to him. Stars such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Eddy Nketiah all arrived at the Emirates club under Emery. Although little is said about these.
However, overall, after almost 20 years in coaching career, Emery is not talked about as much as it should be. This is mainly because interpreting his technique is a bit complicated. Emery cannot be understood in the same way that the strategy of top coaches can be explained in a formula. Emery can easily adapt to any situation. This mentality is also evident in the way his team plays. A look at Aston Villa's performance over the past year may give some insight. This coach takes the team to the field by fixing his strategy according to the match. The team's right back Matty Cash said of his strategy last August, "Coach talks to us before the match and explains the plan. Because what the coach says happens in the match. He does it all the time—he's incredible.'
Emery's match planning and tactics are so shrouded in uncertainty that even the analysts can be seen eating at times. Football statistics portal Opta placed them in the middle of their graph to report Aston Villa's performance in the Premier League. They are a mysterious, hidden and inscrutable group. And when such a team is at its best, it shows what happens to others. Even the best teams in history like City have to struggle against Villa now. Now, if this mystery continues for the rest of the season, it is not impossible for Aston Villa to write a new fairy tale.
But in the end, regardless of the result, Villa now holds the flag of the teams that have erased the definition of big and small in football. The list this season also includes Girona, Nice and Bayer Leverkusen. These teams are also dreaming big. It would be a huge achievement for football if their dreams come true. What could be a better response to the trend that football's elite genre and the jingle of money already has!