With the team in a perilous position in the table, perhaps it's time to start thinking the unthinkable - what happens if Aston Villa FC drop out of the Premier League for the first time?
Parachute payments and being automatically the biggest side in the Championship would suggest good prospects for coming back up. But there are darker possibilities...
The Good Scenario - Villa win everything, score a hatful of goals and get automatic promotion.
The model is Newcastle United's triumphant 2009-10 season, where despite entering the season with the owner looking to sell and a caretaker manager, they romped home with 102 points, having not been out of the top 3 since the second week. So what was the key?
Having Andy Carroll and Kevin Nolan didn't hurt - they finished the season with 17 league goals each. Importantly, both were essentially new players to the first team. In Carroll's case the exodus of Newcastle's previous strikers opened up a space, while Nolan had been a January signing the season before. Peter Løvenkrands was another January signing who showed his worth that season. They were players with something to prove and who helped to dispel the toxic atmosphere of the previous season.
There's a lot to dislike about the Geordies - the inflated sense of entitlement, the blind adulation of club legends to the exclusion of anyone new and the incurable desire to show their beer bellies - but no-one can deny their passion for their club. That season their average home attendance was 43,388 - a drop of no more than 5,000 from the previous season in the Premier League. Perhaps it's easy to sing when you're winning, and the number did creep up during the season, but St. James's Park was an intimidating place for visitors and they showed that football's not all about Sky and TV rights.
The most important factor of all. The previous season had seen four different managers - with Chris Hughton taking the role of caretaker twice, while Kevin Keegan, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer provided nothing in the way calm and leadership. Mike Ashley was looking to sell the side in the summer but couldn't find a buyer, and a string of high profile names left during the summer. The stage was set for another season of turmoil.
Instead Ashley announced he had stopped looking to sell in October, and Hughton got offered a deal. Newcastle immediately went on a winning streak and didn't lose first place for the rest of the season. Now admittedly, it's easier to stick with a side that's playing well, but there was a notable sense of calm and resolve round Hughton, Ashley and the club in general.
Why it could happen to Villa: Even if Tim Sherwood can't save us from relegation, he could be a good man to lead us back up. He wouldn't be scared to give chances to some of the younger and squad players with a point to prove. Even if Delph and Benteke departed, players such as Gil and Robinson could find space to flourish. Randy Lerner would likely conclude that with the reduced running costs and possible selling price, it would be best to invest the required money for promotion. A string of wins and Villa Park could be back to its noisy best, especially with the prospect of a derby against Birmingham City. Fresh legs, stability and the best support in the league - Villa could take the Championship by storm.
The Bad Scenario - Managerial and ownership turmoil leave Villa scrapping in the Championship
Away from that rosy scenario, the statistics say some worrying things about the chances of an immediate bounce back into the league.
Jonathan Liew at the Telegraph has analysed the figures over the last 28 seasons. Just 28.5% of teams who were relegated from the top division came straight back up the next year - with no significant change since the introduction of parachute payments from the Premier League. The numbers don't get much better the second season, with only 34% of teams getting promoted within two seasons in the second tier.
Blackpool and Wigan were highlighted in a recent Guardian article as teams whose parachute payments have done little to help them in the Championship - with Fulham, Bolton and Birmingham all further examples of post- Premier League strugglers. The Championship is a fierce and unpredictable competition and poor administration such as at Blackpool, or ill-advised managerial changes of the type seen at Wigan can quickly cripple a club.
Why it could happen to Villa: For all our optimism about the Sherwood-era, the warnings of a string of the smartest Spurs fans around that he has the tactical sense of a concussed kitten can't be entirely ignored. Randy Lerner might well choose to stick with him rather than pay another expensive contract settlement, but should Tactics Tim prove unable to put together a winning side, Lerner's appointment record is ominous. Another manager on the lines of McLeish or Lambert and Villa could quickly find themselves out of the promotion race, comparing dusty trophies with a lot of prestigious names living off former glories. Nottingham Forest won a European Cup once too, and they've been in the second tier or lower since 1999.
The Ugly Scenario - Stagnation turns to freefall
If the statistics about the chances of an immediate bounce back into the league are worrying, what happens after a failed attempt is even worse. Liew's analysis showed that if you're still in the second tier three seasons after the initial relegation you have an almost equal chance of getting relegated again as you do of winning the league.
The spectre that should haunt Villans here is Leeds United. Their relegation after having been Champions League challengers was shocking. They almost made a swift return to the Premier League, but lost in the play-off final. The consequences were nothing short of disastrous. Financial collapse led to administration and points deductions, taking them down to League One. Since then a string of botched takeovers has left one of England's biggest sides floundering in the Championship, with an owner currently disqualified from running the club - and Russell Crowe their great hope of a saviour.
Why it could happen to Villa: To avoid being melodramatic, let's be clear - this would require some colossal financial mismanagement of the club, and if there's one thing Randy Lerner can't be accused of, it's leaving the club financially exposed to that kind of disaster. But if he decided this whole Aston Villa business was too much for him and sold up to the nearest shady investor group or Russell Crowe just when the selling price hit a low point...well, let's just say the ‘fit and proper person' test hasn't been a perfect solution so far.
No-one likes to think about their side getting relegated, and there's a hell of a battle still to be fought. But a lack of long-term thinking has cost the club dearly in recent years and it would be crazy not to at least consider the examples of other sides who have gone down.
Let us know what you think below - is it too early to even start thinking about this, or should Villa be planning a promotion campaign already? And what's the best way to go about it?