It is me, harbinger of bad news.
After their home loss to Ipswich Town on Saturday, the first such defeat of the year, Aston Villa sit 16th in the Championship table, just seven points above 22nd-placed Blackburn Rovers. That’s… not good.
A seven-point, six-place gap isn’t the worst thing in the world — there’s still a good buffer right now between Villa and a serious relegation threat — but Villa have two traits and a fixture list that combine to be a little worrying.
Villa are one of the worst attacking sides in the league
The club have spent upwards of £40 million on strikers this year, yet only Rotherham United and Wigan Athletic have scored fewer goals — and it’s pretty close. Both those sides have 28, Villa just 29 through 30 matches.
And if there’s one thing that dooms clubs near the drop, it’s an inability to score. Remember, this is what Paul Lambert was really sacked for, and why Tim Sherwood was hired two seasons ago: Sherwood entered, got Christian Benteke firing again, and Villa somewhat comfortably avoided relegation with a strong final push.
For as long as Villa’s attack remains woefully inept, they’ll need to keep looking over their shoulder at other results.
Villa have squandered chances some points in their easiest fixtures
When Villa welcomed in the new year just over a month ago, they also welcomed in a very favourable run of six fixtures: Cardiff City (a), Wolverhampton Wanderers (a), Preston North End (h), Brentford (a), Nottingham Forest (a), Ipswich Town (h). Villa took just one point, a 2-2 draw against Preston after leading 2-0, in those six matches. That’s disastrous.
Of the top 10 teams in the Championship table, Villa have only played one (Leeds United) for a second time. That means the Claret and Blues’ schedule the rest of the way is more difficult than most — Barnsley, Newcastle United and Derby County are the next three matches; Huddersfield Town and Sheffield Wednesday in March; then Norwich City, Fulham and Reading in April, all before closing out the season against Brighton & Hove Albion, who could be playing to secure automatic promotion or the title.
Recent form indicates the chances of Villa winning points in those next three matches, against the 10th-, second- and eighth-placed teams in the table, is slim — and if Villa don’t manage more than the odd point, they could easily be surpassed by a handful of teams behind them, diminishing one of their two key gaps to the relegation places.
Villa’s away form is still atrocious
Another trait of bad clubs? They can’t win away.
Typically Villa’s pretty strong home form — overall average or above average for the season — would be enough to see the away form concerns off. But Villa’s fixture list the rest of the way prevents that from happening.
Of the aforementioned nine matches against top-10 teams, Villa are away for just three of them (Newcastle, Huddersfield and Fulham). In other words, of Villa’s nine remaining home matches, six are against sides they’re fundamentally going to struggle to beat.
If the home form goes to hell in a handbag, which it seems very capable of doing, it means Villa will have to start finding a way to claw out results on the road. And given recent performances at Cardiff, Wolves, Brentford and Forest — the sides currently occupying the four spots in the table around Villa (14th, 18th, 15th and 17th) — it becomes pivotal that Villa improve performances for their trips to the bottom four sides, all of whom Villa are yet to travel to.
Simply put, it seems unlikely that the home form will hold up against a difficult final slate — and if the road form continues the way it is, it means Villa will be dropping six-pointers to Burton Albion, Blackburn and Wigan, a very easy way to creep right into the relegation mix.
That we’re having this conversation is absurd
At the end of the day, as I mentioned, being seven points and six places in the table up on 22nd place isn’t a terrible place to be, as far as a relegation battle is concerned. But that Villa are even in this position is nothing shy of unacceptable. Steve Bruce has one of the league’s most talented sides — just look at how Villa bought up other Championship clubs’ best players — and yet we have to have this damn conversation.
Villa should be fine, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t serious cause for concern.