Their lowest points tally at this stage of the season for 57 years; one goal in their previous six league home games; humiliating cup exits to lower league opposition; Everton, Arsenal and Man City in three of their next four games – these are grim times for Villa. Ever-presents in the Premier League, their position in the relegation zone is a jolt to all fans of teams outside of the Big Four, proving that hard times can come suddenly and unwittingly. Indeed, in a mini-league of the seven Premier League stalwarts, Villa are the leading club behind the top four teams.
Of the traditional big clubs, Everton and Spurs have previously flirted with Premier League relegation, but this Villa outfit presently look set to surpass their efforts and carry the club over the threshold.
Devoid of leadership, confidence and creativity Villa bear resemblance to previous ‘talented’ teams to have fought losing battles with the drop. Newcastle in 2008/09, Leeds Utd in 2003/04 and West Ham’s team of 2002/03 are considered the benchmarks of teams-too-good-to-go-down-that-did.
The spines of those three teams look, on paper, considerably stronger than Villa’s today:
Newcastle (2008/09) – Harper / Coloccini / Nolan / Martins
Leeds United FC (2003/04) – Robinson / Radebe / Batty / Viduka
West Ham United (2002/03) – James / Repka / Carrick (and Cole!) / Defoe (and Kanoute!!)
Aston Villa (last night) – Guzan / Vlaar / Westwood / Benteke
Of course, the more apt comparisons would be with Villa’s nearest competitors in this year’s league. I’m not convinced that the likes of Southampton, Reading, QPR and Wigan would swap their first XI for Villa’s. Certainly not on present form.
A lot is made of Villa’s young team and lack of experience. Of all the teams mentioned above – both contemporary competitors and the sides relegated in seasons past – Villa’s squad is the only one with an average age under 25.
The bookies have made their calculations. Reading (2/5) are favourites to go down, with QPR and Villa joint second favourites, odds-on at 8/13.
Next season the Premier League will divvy up the spoils of the new TV deal, worth a total of £5 billion over three seasons. Clearly, now is not the time to drop into the Championship. Maybe the days of Emile Heskey and Alex McLeish weren’t so bad after all.