Didn't we just play Southampton last week? Oh, it was a month ago? Sorry, it's hard to distinguish between matches when we lose every single time we step on the pitch. Regardless, I've made the executive decision to ask Robert (who made the actual executive decision) to forgo our usual pre-match opposition interview. I asked St. Mary's Musings some questions only a few weeks ago, many of which are still very relevant. If you want to read that "normal" Q&A, click here.
This week, I've decided to take a look at Villa's Christmas fixture list, as well as a few other teams in the Premier League, to see what might be in store. If you don't have the time to read this piece in depth, here's the one thing you need to know: Aston Villa have the easiest Christmas period out of the bottom 5 clubs. Of course, it's yet to be seen if Villa can take advantage of this slight edge. If Villa don't start improving immediately, it won't matter who we play. I'm sure we're going to make Newcastle look like Barcelona in a few weeks. But desperate fans of a desperate club should be taking hope from anywhere. That being said, let's start the wild speculation!
Obviously, we have to start with Villa's December fixtures: Southampton (10th), Arsenal (4th), Newcastle (19th), West Ham (8th), Norwich (16th), Sunderland (17th). Now, I got in contact with some people over at NASA and they helped me come up with a wildly complicated mathematical formula to judge the strength of each club's holiday fixtures. I don't want to confuse anyone with the complex details, but I added up each opponent's league position and divided it by 6 (the number of matches over the holiday period). Crazy stuff, I know. Anyways, my strength of schedule calculation (which I'm calling the Average Opponent Position, or AOP to sound smart) for Villa ended up being 12.3.
The Sunderland match is technically in January, but I'm still counting that weekend as part of the holiday season. At this point, Newcastle, Norwich, and Sunderland have to be considered must wins. If we don't come away with at least 7 points, it will be time to prepare for life in the Championship. As for Arsenal, well...The best we can even hope for is that we at least put up a better fight than our pathetic display at Wembley in May. That leaves Southampton and West Ham. Two tough matches, without a doubt, but both sides could be vulnerable. Southampton have lost their last two league matches against Stoke and Man City, and are coming off a midweek 6-1 defeat to Liverpool in the Capital One Cup. West Ham, on the other hand, have beaten teams like Arsenal, Liverpool, and Man City, but have struggled against teams below them, losing to Bournemouth and Watford, and only managing draws versus Norwich and Sunderland. Let's be optimistic (something I rarely get to say as a Villa fan), and say we squeak a point out of one of those two games. If we win all our "must wins" and manage to scrape a point or two somewhere else, we're looking at a 10 point haul over the Christmas period, bringing us up to 15 on the season. That's the best possible outcome we can even consider. It would be a Christmas miracle.
Let's move on to Newcastle, the only other team in the League who have played almost as poorly as we have. Newcastle play Liverpool (6th), Spurs (5th), Villa (20th), Everton (9th), West Brom (13th), and Arsenal (4th). AOP: 9.5. So science and math say Newcastle have a tougher schedule than Villa. We've already established that Villa will have to win their match against the Magpies, and the only other place I can realistically see Newcastle getting a result is their match West Brom. But let's be generous and give them a draw, maybe against Everton? I just can't see it, but hey, we're trying to be optimistic, right? Those four points would take them to 14 total, a point below Villa.
Bournemouth have Chelsea (14th), Manchester United (3rd), West Brom (13th), Crystal Palace (7th), Arsenal (4th), and Leicester (2nd). Bournemouth's AOP: 7.1. Again, another tough run of matches, even harder than Newcastle's. Let's continue our streak of optimism and say out of the those matches, Bournemouth get 7 points. Unlikely, but not impossible, say, if they beat Palace and West Brom, and manage a draw against Chelsea. The Cherries are now on 17 points.
Sunderland play Arsenal (4th), Watford (11th), Chelsea (14th), Man City (1), Liverpool (6th), and Villa (20th). AOP: 9.3. Sunderland has been on a bit of a roll lately, winning their last two matches against Palace and Stoke. Apart from their match against Villa, which Villa have already won because I started with them and this is supposed to make me feel better, Sunderland might be able to pick up.... 5 points maximum? I'm being generous, but it's the giving season, so I'll say they beat Watford, and somehow earn another point or two. That would leave them with 17 points, tied with Bournemouth.
Our final side, Norwich, go up against Watford (11th), Everton (9th), Manchester United (3rd), Spurs (5th), Villa (20th), and Southampton (10th). AOP: 9.6. Once again, it's possible (maybe even probable) that they'll get something from the Villa match. But...if they don't, they'd get 7 or 8 points from that run of games, at the most. They would be on 21 points, the highest out of all the clubs I've looked at.
Let's go big picture now. At the end of this run of matches, which comes just before a week long break from the Premier League, we'll be halfway through the season. If all this plays out the way I've described above (which will probably be ruined by Sunday), the bottom of the table would look like this:
Okay, we'd still not be in the best position, but it's certainly better than where we stand now. We'd be a win away from safety. And possibly even more importantly, we would have built some momentum to carry over into the next half of the season. Plus, it's January. Maybe Garde brings in some new faces. Maybe our luck changes in the New Year. Maybe things start to turn around. It could happen.