Aston Villa have enjoyed a stellar start to the 2020/21 Premier League campaign, sitting pretty in 6th position, three points behind league leaders Leicester City.
Not only that, Dean Smith’s vibrant Villians have a game in hand on all five opponents above them, and a win in that fixture would see them move up to the summit, courtesy of a better goal difference.
This season’s performances have been a far cry from last year’s stuttering campaign, in which the Midlands club scraped Premier League survival by the skin of their teeth.
Many predicted Dean Smith’s men to be in a relegation battle for a second year running, but the Englishman has addressed issues within the playing squad over the summer and is now reaping the awards.
However, despite the positive changes made, not even the most optimistic of Villa fan would have predicted this side pushing for top spot by matchday eight, so what exactly has changed the club’s fortunes of late?
After last term’s disastrous transfer windows, the pressure was on Villa’s recruitment team to deliver in the summer. The squad was crying out for a number nine that could produce in a demanding league, and after spending a combined total of £30.5million on flops Wesley and Mbwana Samatta, the next forward signed had to be the right one.
The chosen man for the job was Brentford’s Ollie Watkins, who joined for a club-record £28m, with potential fees rising to £33m. An extortionate fee for a forward with no previous Premier League experience, but early signs are showing that Watkins is just what was needed at Villa Park. The 24-year-old has so far bagged six goals in seven appearances, including a hat-trick against champions Liverpool.
The club has strengthened in midfield as well, with the late signing of Ross Barkley proving to be a shrewd piece of business. The creative midfielder has already bagged two goals and an assist and is currently playing some of the best football of his career.
Energetic defender Matty Cash came in from Nottingham Forest and has already made himself a fan favourite amongst the Villa support, along with Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who has impressed since joining from Arsenal.
Keeping hold of prized assets
Even with the abundance of high-quality signings coming through the door at Villa Park, the supporters favourite piece of business has no doubt been the contract renewal of star player Jack Grealish.
The 25-year-old signed a new five-year deal with his boyhood club in September, ending speculation of a move to Manchester United. (At least for the time being).
Not only have Villa fans been in awe of the midfield sensation’s start to the campaign, but the whole country has been praising Grealish in recent weeks, with many urging England manager Gareth Southgate to utilise him more efficiently within the national squad.
Villa’s number 10 has been in superb form under Dean Smith’s stewardship, and if he maintains these high-level performances for the next few months, fears of another relegation scrap will soon be diminished.
Attractive style of play
Even though the club can now be boastful of a number of high-quality players, praise must go to the manager for setting up the team in an attacking mindset, which looks to take the game to their opponents.
Not many teams in the past have had the courage to go toe-to-toe with Jurgen Klopp’s high-intensity Liverpool team, but Dean Smith refused to let his side sit back and let the Reds dictate the tempo. That bold tactic proved dividends as the Villians ran riot in a comprehensive 7-2 victory, a game which will no doubt go down in Premier League folklore.
This was no one-off heroic underdog performance however, as away victories to both Leicester City and Arsenal followed in recent weeks.
As positive as this side looks, there has also been some slip-ups along the way, including a 3-0 defeat to the hands of newly-promoted Leeds United, as well as conceding four goals at home against Southampton.
There will no doubt be more hiccups to come for Aston Villa supporters, but the future is looking bright in the Midlands, and it may not be long before they are consistently challenging local rivals Wolves in the top half of the table.
Whilst a bid for Champions League qualification may still look a bit farfetched, one thing for sure is that Villa fans won’t have to fear the prospect of relegation anytime soon, as Grealish and company continues to impress under the spotlight.