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xV: Aston Villa can play without pressure against Liverpool

Aston Villa’s competent start to the Premier League season has put them on solid footing, which means any result against the European champions is a bonus for the club.

Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 22: Henri Lansbury of Aston Villa in action during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on September 22, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.
Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a numbers-based look at Aston Villa! We’re a quarter of the way through the season, so let’s take a big-picture look at Villa before diving into a couple focused topics.

Villa are largely taking care of business when they need to…

…even if the Premier League table might be a little deceptive.

If we take a quick look at the table, we see that Aston Villa’s results this season almost go according to form — they’ve lost to teams placed 2nd, 5th, 6th, 9th and 11th; drawn teams placed 10th and 13th; and defeated the squads sitting 14th, 16th and 19th. With the exception of the Tottenham loss and West Ham draw, they’ve been nothing but consistent as far as the table’s concerned.

While 10 matches in starts to inch toward a significant enough sample size to disregard this idea in most years, this season, the Premier League table is incredibly tight in midtable, to the point where Villa’s opponents’ league positions are heavily influenced by their results against Villa. Just consider the draw Villa should’ve had at Crystal Palace — had Kevin Friend made the right decision, Palace would be 10th instead of 6th, and Villa would be right on their heels, sitting 12th and just one point back.

If we think about the clubs themselves, though, instead of their league position, Villa’s first 10 Premier League matches have been encouraging. Let’s think about Villa’s five results this season:

  • Everton have made a sluggish start to the season in general, and Villa capitalized with a home win back in August
  • Villa earned a home draw with West Ham United, a club that’s more talented than a relegation scrapper
  • Two weeks later, Villa drew at home with Burnley, a club whose style of play and experience make them a more likely survival candidate than most
  • Villa went away to an honestly bad Norwich City team and dominated in a 5-1 win
  • Villa then came home and capitalized on a Brighton & Hove Albion mistake to win at the death

Villa are 2-2-1 at home — the only loss to Bournemouth when the Claret and Blues shot themselves in the foot early — and three of their four away defeats have been against “big six” opposition (with the aforementioned loss at Palace the fourth).

On the whole, what we’ve described is a club that’s competent (this includes the League Cup, by the way), and doesn’t appear to be one of the three worst in the division a quarter of the way in. That’s subject to change, of course — particularly with Villa’s back-to-back fixtures against Wolves and Newcastle or their five-match league run against Sheffield United, Southampton, Norwich, Watford and Burnley — but for now, this looks like a team capable of winning the matches they need to in order to get the job done.

Liverpool provide an opportunity for Villa to steal a point or three on their rivals

All the above means that Saturday’s home contest with Liverpool should be seen as pretty low-pressure for Villa, and a chance to enjoy Villa’s first true home match that reminds us we’re finally back in the top flight. It’s a Saturday kickoff, unlike Everton and West Ham, and the European champions are coming to town, not Bournemouth, Burnley or Brighton. No matter what happens, Villa can’t drop into the bottom three today, which means that the start to the season was successful (as we chatted about above). I’m expecting that Villa will lose, but also give the game a go — and if we can steal a point or even three, it’ll remind the football world we’re back and help Villa get an extra leg up on their relegation rivals headed toward the busy month of December.

Henri Lansbury is giving Dean Smith another option to manage Jack Grealish’s knock

Henri Lansbury has played four times for Villa this season now. In his two starts, both League Cup matches against admittedly weaker opposition, he’s provided five (!!) assists. Away to Crystal Palace back in August, he scored what should’ve been the equalizing goal in one of two brief Premier League cameos.

I feel bad for the dude, especially with how he’s been plagued by injuries in his time at Villa. Yet as far as the club are concerned, I feel really good having Henri in his role right now — he’s the sixth midfielder on this squad, and given how he’s playing, I’d be comfortable running him out in the Starting XI in a Premier League fixture. That’s a good place to be in, and it gives manager Dean Smith one more option to manage Grealish’s knock if the club captain can’t go the full 90 or the match gets away from Villa early on.