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xV: Villa’s 7–2 win over Liverpool could finally be the dawn of their “bright future”

Do Aston Villa finally have the personnel to move up the table and away from a relegation scrap? Sunday’s 7–2 thrashing of the champions suggests they might.

Aston Villa v Liverpool - Premier League
Ollie Watkins of Aston Villa celebrates his hat trick goal as the Claret and Blues thrashed Liverpool on Sunday at Villa Park.
Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a column about the numbers behind Aston Villa. This year, we’re trying a new format: xV Four Thoughts, where I’ll present four sections, each no more than 200 words. Ready?

Aston Villa’s win Sunday was not a fluke

The scoreline itself? A bit of a fluke — there’s a reason very few football matches finish with nine goals scored. But the result? Fully deserved for Villa.

Liverpool opened the door when Adrián gifted Villa a goal four minutes in, and from there… Dean Smith’s men simply outplayed the champions. Despite spending 86 minutes ahead, the Claret and Blues out-shot Liverpool 18–14; 13 of Villa’s shots were from inside the penalty area, and 11 hit the target (plus one that hit the woodwork). Villa controlled the flow of the match, were always dangerous on the break, and exploited Liverpool’s high line and offside trap brilliantly.

No, of course Villa are not going to score seven regularly. They probably won’t do it again for a very long time. And yes, they were fortunate that Liverpool made a grave mistake; that the champions weren’t able to convert to level the match at 1–1 once Villa went ahead.

Yet it’s worth remembering: good teams punish mistakes and take advantage of good fortune. For far, far too long, Villa haven’t done that. Are they finally turning the corner and becoming a good team?

Villa’s transfer business has given themselves a chance

Here’s why Villa might be good: opponents have to worry about defending more than one player.

Remember: When Villa stayed up at the end of last season, they were scoring nearly all of their goals through set pieces — because aside from Jack Grealish, who did you need to worry about? Neither Mbwana Samatta nor Keinan Davis were strong goal-scoring threats; Trézéguet or Anwar El Ghazi could easily be double-marked; John McGinn was desperately out of form; and Conor Hourihane has never been a guy opponents have to game plan against.

Now? If you want to try to double-mark Jack Grealish and take him away, he’ll have no issue finding an unmarked teammate for an easy goal. It’s obviously skewed by Sunday’s result, but Grealish already has six goal contributions in three games — and it’s because the defence has to worry about damn near every attack-minded player on the pitch for Villa. Ross Barkley and an in-form McGinn will run rampant if you don’t mark them; Watkins is already terrorizing opponents’ defenders.

It’s a numbers game — it’s a lot harder to limit one player when you have to worry about his teammates.

Villa are perfectly positioned for the future…

Here’s something more exciting than the scoreline or the table: Villa’s oldest starter Sunday was Emiliano Martínez. He’s a 28-year-old goalkeeper.

I think it’s fair to say that every one of Villa’s 11 starters against Liverpool still has room to grow as a player — most are either yet to hit their prime, or just starting to do so. Jack Grealish and John McGinn are 25; Ollie Watkins is 24. Ezri Konsa is a 22-year-old who looks like he’ll have England caps in his future. Even the old guys — Martínez and the 27-year-old Mings — play positions where players’ peaks come later in their career; it’s not hard to envision how those two can anchor Villa at the back for the next five years.

When every player is on a similar developmental curve, it provides the opportunity for positively correlated individual growth — which means that if these players grow, the club will grow as well; there’s not likely to be fall-off at one position to counteract progress at another.

This isn’t dissimilar to the strategy Villa tried eight years ago under Paul Lambert. It just might… actually work this time.

…and their youth academy is part of that

Let’s say Villa’s plan works and fast-forward five years. Grealish, McGinn and Watkins are entering their 30s and have cemented themselves as Villa legends; Mings is ready to start stepping aside at age 32. On the developmental curve, 2025 is around where we’d expect to see these players start to decline, and where you’d like to see some fresh new youngsters come into the fold.

It’s why I absolutely love what Villa have done this summer with their youth academy.

It really goes back to when they grabbed Louie Barry off of Barcelona midway through last season, but Villa have been aggressively courting top 16- and 17-year-old talent, both domestically and on the continent. They’ve beaten out elite clubs and, maybe most importantly, they tied down Carney Chukwuemeka despite interest from other, better-established clubs.

Those 16- and 17-year-old players Villa’s signed this offseason? In five years, those guys will be 21 or 22 — the perfect age to start coming into the first-team setup and supplementing Villa’s soon-to-age core. Sure, you’ll take young talent at any point in the curve, but if you like the long game, this “class” of youngsters could be just what Villa need in 2025.