It’s that purgatory part of the year for all football fans. The season is over, the players and club staff are all on holiday and what we have left is half-baked transfer tittle-tattle to keep us going, at least until the pre-season friendlies start.
After the surge of emotion and pure delight following the playoff final victory, attentions are now focused on how Aston Villa will perform in their first season back in the Premier League. There is little doubt, however, that we will go into August flying high on positive vibes after our incredible charge to promotion. Whilst much will depend on how Purslow and co fair on the recruitment side, there is a feeling that the momentum of last season can help us attack the first few games well, as Dean Smith attempts to establish his print on the Premier League for the first time.
Regardless of any potential transfer dealings, there are a few pragmatic aims and objectives which must be met this season and in my opinion should be our baselines when we pass judgment throughout the campaign.
Last time in the Premier League, we achieved an embarrassing 17 points, a sum which included just 3 victories. It may seem obvious to say, but we NEVER want to go there again, so this should be our first milestone and the sooner we reach that total, the sooner we can put that particular ghost to rest.
The second aim has to be 40 points. This is the recognised magic total that more or less ensures survival in the Premier League and receipt of further riches from the broadcasters. We have seen during our exile in the Football League how vital this money is to a club of Villa’s stature and whilst it would be nice to be aiming higher, we should put the emotional aspect to one side in this case and accept that if we achieve this, it will be another tick in the box.
In terms of the league campaign, I would regard this as a minimum, albeit anything more would be a most welcome bonus. Given the incredible season ticket sales, which have seen the club impose a cap of 30,000, continuing our impressive home form and returning Villa Park to fortress status would be a welcome addition to the list of targets. Those huge home gates following Smith’s appointment right through to the end of the season is what generates such an unbelievable feel good factor, (lets face it the away fans don’t need much encouragement) so it is important we show the watching world what Villa Park is all about these days. It is certainly a world away from the timid and tame atmospheres towards in the few season preceding relegation.
Next on the list are the cup competitions. Aston Villa is a club with a huge cup tradition, albeit this has been few and far between in my lifetime. Most recently however, the run to the FA Cup final in 2015 created great excitement around the club and memories of that, aside from the massacre in the final at the hands of Arsenal, whipped up great excitement around the club.
Dean Smith talked last season about making the most of the limited opportunities to win silverware, hinting that he does take cup competitions seriously. Whilst winning a cup is a long shot, I regard this season’s competitions as ideal chances to bring some glamour to what could be an otherwise fairly ordinary season, in comparison to the last two.
In terms of the playing style, of course I would like to see Villa continuing to expand their game and pass the ball well, keeping with Dean Smith’s philosophy. However, I also don’t want us to get ripped apart by savvy, well organised teams who’s coaches are able to telegraph what we’re doing a mile off. We will need to mix it, as we have shown that we can in the Championship. People talk about having a ‘plan B’, which I regard as a red herring. What Dean Smith has is an ability to read the game and utilise his players to react. He may have alternative ways of setting his team up, but his ability to adjust in-game will be vital to us in accumulating the points that we need.
As for the individuals, it is generally exciting for fans to see their players receive international recognition. Whilst plenty of players have been involved internationally over the past three years, it seems like a long time since we saw a Villan in the England squad. The potential signing of England number 2 Jack Butland would end that draught, but I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that Jack Grealish will force his way into Gareth Southgate’s plans this season. It will certainly be interesting to see how he performs in the Premier League, particularly as captain and an England call up would be a fitting recognition of the work he has put in to turn his career around, not to mention his incredible talent.
Finally, my last wish involves the Villa faithful. As we appear on track to break season ticket sales records this summer, it points to the atmosphere once again being incredible at Villa Park. It is however likely that this season will be tougher viewing for us, simply due to the jump in class that will be required to compete. It is important that the team meet the aims which I set out earlier, but also that we temper our expectations as try to regard this season as transition back to the Premier League. It will be uncomfortable at times, but I hope we can enjoy being back amongst the elite and not get too down hearted during the sticky patches. This is what all the stress of the past two seasons has been about, now we can drink it in.