Tottenham, Southampton, and the trip to Burnley. November saw Aston Villa hold leads in three of the four matches they played in and yet come away with only three points. And yet, all three of those matches could have very easily been wins. Change those results to get full points and a few things happen.
- Villa jump from 11th with 19 points to 4th with 26 (thanks to Southampton losing a point)
- The nine-match winless streak is cut short, and what was a dismal, worrisome stretch becomes a 10-point month
- The -9 goal differential that the club currently have shrinks to (at least) -5.
The first order of business here is to point out that, largely, speculation of this nature is pretty useless. You could just as easily envision scenarios in which Villa drop some of the points that they've gotten. But, the idea that Villa could have won those three matches is not necessarily far-fetched. Against Tottenham, Villa were in control until Christian Benteke was sent off for a foul that could have just as easily resulted in a yellow, or Ryan Mason getting the red. Both goals scored by Spurs came after the red, when Villa had lost their target up front and were forced into a defensive style that was doomed.
And the matches against Southampton and Burnley saw Villa leading until after the 80th minute. Those are harder to write off, though, as it was only the poor play of Villa that led to those becoming draws. Nevertheless, it's easy to see how the win was there for the taking.
But the reason I'm not too worried about how valid this sort of revisionist history can be is the fact that it's not the results that really matter here. What I think we can take away from this look (aside from sorrow for what could have been) are a few observations about this team and this league.
- Aston Villa are not as bad as their nine-match winless streak would have suggested. The bulk of those matches came against some of the best clubs in the league, and they came when Villa were missing some of their best players.
- Aston Villa are not as good as their current five-match unbeaten streak might signify. Three matches in which they had wins wrapped up became a loss and two draws. Even if you can fault the ref in the Tottenham match, there's no reason to give up seven points from these situations.
- The Premier League is just absolute junk this year. The fact that a pretty bad Villa team could realistically envision a scenario in which they sit 4th is absurd. Just try to extrapolate a bit from there. If this squad were to play in the Champions League, would they even score a goal? And yet, a few things go differently and they're in line to do just that.
- Finally: we're a few results away from Aston Villa really making us feel secure for the first time in a while. Mostly because of the previous bullet point, but with the schedule coming up, there is a legitimate shot that Villa have 27-30 points by the end of January. Last year they survived (easily) with 38 points, and there is no way the cut is that high this year. If they hit the end of January at 27, I think we can all breathe.
So yeah, it's silly to look at what could have been. But it's also pretty instructive. I'll admit to being a part of the "sky is falling" cadre of fans during the run of terror, but with a little perspective I realize that I was wrong. Villa are exactly what I thought they were at the beginning of the season: a team who won't impress much but who should comfortably achieve safety and who have an outside shot at finishing top half.
That's not a bad thing to be, and it's nice that we've had a reminder of the reality of the situation.