It's been a week of quite interesting week for Aston Villa, with continued speculation over the future of both Paul Lambert and Randy Lerner continuing to dominate the conversations surrounding the club. Given the actual on-field realities at the moment it's unsurprising that off-field matters are far more interesting topics of discussion, but with relegation still a possibility-though less of a possibility than one might think-the games themselves are still worth paying attention to, at least temporarily.
The good news-in an admittedly cynical sense of the term-is that following today's trip face Swansea City, that may no longer be the case. If Villa are most of the way towards achieving safety already, taking home three points from the Liberty Stadium would all but mathematically confirm the end to a third (or fourth, depending on how you view the Houllier era) consecutive relegation scare. Of course, given Villa's form over the past month in general and complete inability to pose a threat since the loss of Christian Benteke in particular, envisioning a scenario in which Villa manage to beat anyone is pretty difficult. That is not to say that they can't beat anyone; it's to say that a normally functioning adult human brain is lacking in the kind of imagination required to accomplish such a task.
It's somewhat heartening, then, that Villa's competition in this game will be a Swansea side whose season can't be described as anything other than a disappointment. One season removed from a League Cup win and their first-ever top half finish in the top flight, the Swans have spent much of the year within range of the bottom three, leading to the departure of Michael Laudrup in February. Thanks to some timely wins over the past month Swansea now look to be out of danger, but for a club that looked to be on the verge of challenging for a potential top-6 place following last season, falling off so dramatically is unwelcome. But even through their struggles, it's been clear that Swansea are a far better team than their position in the table would indicate.
Significant injuries have been a factor, but Swans have also been flat-out unlucky. Over 38 games last season, Swansea scored 47 goals while allowing 51. Pretty respectable numbers for an up-and-coming mid-table side. This season? Swansea have scored 47 goals while allowing 51. And yet they're somehow 10 points worse off, with a points total that would in most years see them right in the middle of the relegation fight. Clearly the quality of a team can't be determined through goal difference alone, but it's reasonable to say that teams that have similar statistical lines will almost always do better over the course of a full season. Swansea haven't been as good this year as they were in their two previous years in the Premier League, but they haven't been all that much worse, and certainly not by the margin that their points total and table position might indicate.
In other words, the fact that just one point separates Swansea from Villa is more than a little misleading, and that would be true even if Villa weren't missing their best player and suffering through a spell of horrendous form. It's true that spells of futility such as this one Villa are currently enduring come to end seemingly without reason all the time, but in so many ways the team's lack of quality over the past month seems much more like a regression to their true level of talent than a slump. Luckily, Villa performed well enough over the course of the season to make an escape from the drop likely. But in order to put any doubts to rest against Swansea, they're likely going to need to over-perform at least one more time.