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xV: Let’s make a plan to get Aston Villa back into the top six

After Villa romped over Derby County by a 4-0 score line at the weekend, everything seems possible again. Can Villa rise from 11th to a play-off spot in the last two months of the season?

Brentford v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
BRENTFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 13: Tammy Abraham of Aston Villa reacts during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Aston Villa at Griffin Park on February 13, 2019 in Brentford, England.
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a look at the numbers behind Villa’s results (or, in this case, future). The Claret and Blues may be back in the race for the play-offs, so we’re gonna have some fun thinking about it.

A week ago, I was expecting to write an xV that effectively amounted to the post-credits scene from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Four Villa goals later (fueled by a Jack Grealish return), and we’re back, plotting a road map back into the top six.

Normally, in this space, we talk about things in terms of pace — what do Villa need to do to get to 75 points for sixth? What about 90 points for second? But we’ve reached the final quarter of the season, and that switches the focus, because the target is no longer a number — it’s a spot in the table.

As Villa currently sit 11th in the Championship table, they’ll need to pass five clubs to make the play-offs. Looking at that table, that means Villa probably need to do all of the following:

…and if they win either exactly two or six more than those clubs, they’ll also need to win the goal differential showdown.

So, let’s get a game plan for how Villa can attack this table and move into the top six.

The next two matches are away trips to Blues and Forest. In that sense, successive wins would be a great first step, as Dean Smith’s men would be guaranteed to move ahead of both clubs.

What about the team currently in sixth, Bristol City? For starters, it’s important to keep in mind that the Robins have a match in hand on the rest of the field (they have 12 remaining, while the other contenders for sixth have 11). But the key is this: Aston Villa v Bristol City, 13 April.

Each team plays six matches before that showdown at Villa Park, and if the Claret and Blues can close the gap to three points, they’ll have the opportunity to really put the pressure on with a win. The upcoming fixture is encouraging, too, as Bristol City play four of the top five in their next six matches.

Above all else, though, Villa are going to need to keep the pressure on their opponents the rest of the year. Derby bounced back with their first win in a little while this week, and Hull have played good stuff recently. No matter the scenario, the Claret and Blues will probably need to win at least seven or eight matches down the stretch, and the three against Birmingham, Forest and Bristol City are the three most crucial on that fixture. Derby will need to drop some points, too, though that looks a decent bet right now.

The tricky thing for Villa? If you’ve looked at the end to the season, you may catch some bad news: Villa play the top two in the last two weeks of the season. If Leeds United and Norwich City are battling ’til the end, Villa could need to edge out one or both of those clubs when there’s something on the line for both sides. Not necessarily ideal here.

If we’re being honest, Villa will probably get one point from the next three matches and recede into oblivion again. I’ll be damned, though, if it isn’t fun to be thinking about it again.