The worst is over, but the next 4 games are still very tough
The top 5 all in a row. It will never get harder than that. But sadly for us, we're not looking at the group of winnable games you might expect. The next 4 games will be very difficult too:
QPR (a) - A game you would have put down as a potential banana skin (read "Villa will lose this") before the season began. QPR have been poor, which makes this game seem more winnable. But Redknapp is under massive pressure and they desperately need a result to close the 4 point gap to 17th. They were a kick away from getting a result against Liverpool last weekend. They will see this as a chance. This is by no means the ideal time to play them.
Tottenham (h) - When was the last time we gave Spurs a decent game? You have to go back 6 games to our last point, a fluke in the dying days of the McLeish era. Since our last victory we've drawn 3 and lost 9 games against the Spuds. A cumulative goal difference of -20 in those 12 clashes and we've scored just 5 times. Our last victory? Well I'll tell you, I was there 6 years and 1 month ago in the Park Lane End at White Hart Lane with my Spurs supporting mate. He was livid. Those were the days. Our chances this time round? As bleak as ever.
West Ham (a) - A tough fixture on paper usually. Right now they look fantastic and yesterday they beat Man City. Song and Kouyate make their midfield the real deal. Valencia and Sakho add pace and goal threat. Downing has found his mojo. Their defence is still strong. They look nailed on for the top 10 if they continue to play like this and only Southampton look better equipped to challenge the top teams. We're good away from home but we'd have to be on top form to get a result here.
Southampton (h) - Their really tough run of fixtures is yet to come, but my god have they looked good so far. They've dismissed any lower table team with ridiculous ease and panache. They signed the players I previously wished we could go for in Tadic, Mané and Alderweireld. They are making such brilliant progress you can't really begrudge them any success that comes their way. We'll be at home here, but they look good enough to take us to the cleaners on any ground at the moment.
Which Villa exec was messing around with the fixture computer's wife?
Come on. Own up. This is not normal. After Southampton, we'll have played every top 10 team from last season except Man United. We'll also have played what look to be the form teams, or "surprise packages". In our first 12 games! From last season's table, we will have played:
Positions: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16 and 20*.
That's obscenely difficult, especially when you consider we've had injuries to key players and bouts of illness throughout. For an appropriate comparison, let's take the previously mentioned Southampton. After 13 games based on last season's table they will have played:
Positions: 2, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18* and 20*.
Just look at the difference. I'm not saying we'll get near them this season but my god does it help when you can hit the ground running. A similar pattern occurred last season when they got off to their flying start. It's all about building momentum. But it's not the end of the world, because we will have the chance to climb the table soon enough.
*QPR = 20th, Leicester = 18th.
What are the positives?
Put simply, the 9 games from 29th November to 10th January.
Burnley (away), Crystal Palace (away), Leicester (home), West Brom (away), Man United (home), Swansea (away), Sunderland (home), Crystal Palace (home), Leicester (away).
They come thick and fast. No premier league games are easy and we've made it our specialty to not beat the teams around us in the past. But so far this season? We haven't lost to a team outside the top 6. We've beaten every bottom half team we have faced. If we are to ever have escape from the clutches of consistent relegation battles this is the type of opportunity we can't afford to miss.
Right now we have Vlaar and Benteke both getting up to speed. We have most of our key players fit or finding fitness, Delph is the only exception. Unless we get really unlucky again *touches wood* we shouldn't be fielding a horribly weakened team for a change.
What does this mean?
Don't panic. That's the long and short of it. We should expect to get something against QPR but the 3 that follow will be really tough. I looked at the fixture list before the season and said "we will be in a poor position come November, if we're not we're going to have a great season". It's about how we react when we come up against teams we can really beat. I think we've got a stronger squad this season and a better first team.
Overall this will be our best finish under Lambert. You can quote me on that. Just keep calm.
When If we start losing to the likes of Burnley and Crystal Palace, then you have my permission to panic.