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xV: Villa’s bold, attack-minded philosophy could be what keeps them up

Are Dean Smith and Aston Villa naïve for thinking they can come into the Premier League and succeed playing attacking football? Or do trends show that their bold approach is the one that makes survival most likely?

RB Leipzig v Aston Villa - Pre-Season Friendly
LEIPZIG, GERMANY - AUGUST 03: Conor Hourihane (C) of Aston Villa celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s second goal during the pre-season friendly match between RB Leipzig and Aston Villa at Red Bull Arena on August 3, 2019 in Leipzig, Germany.
Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a numbers-based look at Aston Villa! We start our 2019/20 edition of xV with a look at the club’s determination to play positive, attack-minded football in the Premier League. Is it smart or naïve?

This summer, Aston Villa have shown no sign of changing what got them here. Dean Smith will continue to play fluid, attack-minded football instead of shifting to a defensive style to grind out results. Villa have brought in a slew of young, promising players instead of going for experienced Premier League veterans. It’s bold and ambitious, as staying young and playing attractive football is undoubtedly the best way to move a club forward.

At the same time, though, is it also recklessly naïve? How many of these young players will pan out, and how many will turn out like Jordan Veretout — talented, but unable to settle at B6? If they play an open style, will Villa’s defence be able to stop, well, anyone? And, perhaps a question that’s been in my head a bit too much, are Villa the next Blackpool?

The 2010/11 Blackpool squad, headed by Ian Holloway and led on the pitch by Charlie Adam, is probably my favorite team in Premier League history. They came onto the scene after winning promotion by playing attacking football and, just... kept doing the same damn thing in the Premier League. They scored in all but one home fixture, did the double over Liverpool, and pumped three past Tottenham Hotspur at home.

Despite all of it, they still went down.

On the surface, it’s not too hard to see how Villa could suffer a similar fate this season — a young, attack-minded side that can’t defend well enough to play the style they’re built to play. Then, I started digging — and came to an entirely different conclusion: Villa’s naïveté is exactly the thing that’s going to keep them up.

Two major reasons:

  1. In the grand scheme, that Blackpool team was an outlier; in the last 20-plus Premier League seasons, the 2010/11 Tangerines are the only side to score at least 50 goals and be relegated. They were also relegated on 39 points that season, a total that’s all but certain to be safe this year.
  2. Recent trends are showing that if you can score goals, you’ll avoid the drop. In both 2016/17 and 2018/19, the three relegated sides were also the three lowest-scorers, and the sides that dropped in 2017/18 didn’t have many goals in them, either. You have to go back to Newcastle United’s 44-goal haul in 2015/16 to find the last relegated side to finish outside of the bottom five on the goal-scoring chart.

Goals are good. Playing conservatively is bad. It’s just simple math: winning gets you three points, while drawing returns just one. If Villa consistently play for three points this season, they can fail most of the time and still finish 17th or better.

Whether or not they prove to have the firepower to be successful enough, of course, remains to be seen. But the club are taking the correct mentality into the new season — because it’s goals that keep you up, not parking the bus.