Aston Villa vs. Stoke City, match preview

Aston Villa are probably safe, but that doesn't mean the season's upside is out the window.

With 9 games still to play and the same number of points between Aston Villa and 18th, it's still to early to say the club is safe without feeling as though fate is being tempted. But after back-to-back wins pushed the club to 10th in the league, it's reasonable to point out that a lot of things would have to go very, very wrong for Villa to find themselves in the bottom three come the end of the season. Villa have put together good performances this season, but the wins over Norwich and Chelsea were arguably their two best showings all year; if that's the result of the team beginning to gel rather than a temporary blip, the last 9 games of the season could be pretty fun.

In that sense, Stoke City present a relatively interesting challenge for Villa; the two sides are statistically comparable, with the same number of points and the same number of goals, and they're the kind of team that's given Villa fits this season. Was the dismantling of Norwich a sign that maybe that's changed? How Villa manage to show against a team not exactly known for pressing forward will serve as an early indication.

In a strange way, the ultimate goal from this game is to make everyone forget it as soon as possible. Yes, it's not outside of the realm of possibility that Villa could trounce Stoke in a manner that will be memorable for the near future, but it's not likely; the Potters are a tough side to break down. and no one in the bottom half of the table is likely to feel especially comfortable. This is where the idealist view of things takes over; Villa are 10th, they've won two in a row in impressive fashion, that's the way things are now. But that's not an especially realistic view of things, and in the grand scheme an anonymous draw isn't any worse.

The larger point is, Villa have reached a stage where games like this don't feel life-and-death. We can bicker over the relative importance, but unless the bottom falls out, these games are largely meaningless (save a few million that won't be reinvested the squad.) And the bottom probably isn't going to fall out, which mean they're at least 70% upside. That's not an actual measure of the odds, but it's reflective of reality; it's gonna be okay from here on out., so let's at least hope it's fun.

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