Sorry for the delay on the conclusion of this series. Christmas and then a pair of Villa fixtures in three days happened.
But let's get to the final specific part of the series — what does the success of Southampton, West Ham United, and even Swansea City (who will very much be in the Champions League race with a win over Liverpool tonight) mean for Villa? These are smaller clubs — ones who have been in relegation battles with Villa over the last two years — and they're having success in the Premier League. Let's start with the good signs...
This year has shown that the smaller clubs have a better chance of competing in this Premier League we now find ourselves in. That's a good thing and I think it's generally evident why. These are teams that Villa were competing against to survive the drop in the past and now, they're teams that are chasing the European spots. It shows that it can happen and that the club isn't insane for reaching for it.
In fact, with more and more television money coming into the league, you could argue that we're finally starting to see the benefits of Financial Fair Play for the smaller clubs. To a certain extent, there's a level to which the top sides can be good. Sure, you're going to have years like last one when no "outsider" would have stood a chance but on the flip side, a lack of chemistry amongst the better teams will get punished more. Those smaller sides can now put together better teams than before, and with solid chemistry, it's not out of the realm of possibility to dream.
But under the surface, there's a problem with the outsiders — the more of them that there are, the less of a chance Villa could be successful in getting to Europe.
In the past, the thought on how to get to Europe was pretty straightforward; sixth place would probably do it and all that meant was having to finish above two of the "big seven" — often Everton and Liverpool. This year? That's still possible for a Villa side on 21 points at the halfway point.
But the issue is when you add in teams like Newcastle United and the aforementioned three "outsiders." It makes more teams that you have to chase for those spots and, accordingly, potentially more of the "big" clubs you have to finish ahead of. If you aren't the best "outsider" in the league, it's going to be extremely, extremely hard to get into Europe; you're counting on a few of the big clubs to have down years, something that's going to be more and more difficult.
So it goes both ways. The successes of Southampton, West Ham, and Swansea this year show that it is possible, that there is a chance for Villa to shoot up the table and challenge for Europe. But on the flip side, it makes it harder for a successful Villa side to get into Europe if they have more competitors than ever before for the spots.
Tomorrow will see a wrap-up — the end of the series — and a bit of a look at why, fundamentally, it's good for the club to have such an ambition.