Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a numbers-based look at Aston Villa! This week, we focus on Villa’s relegation rivals and how they’re also pretty bad. It’s great!
If Villa lose tonight, can we please not act like relegation is a foregone conclusion?
Because it’s not, no matter the result. Aston Villa are not a particularly good football team. We’ve seen that time and time again this year.
Fear not, though, because I’ve got great news. There are five other not particularly good football teams in the Premier League this season!
If Villa go down this season, it’s because there were 17 teams better than them. If they survive, it’s because they were better than three other sides. All that matters is this relativity.
I occasionally foray into American high school sports in this column — it’s the level of sport at which I’m most involved these days — and I’ll do it again because I think it provides a great example for what I’m getting at. In my senior year of high school, our boys basketball team made a run to the semi-finals of our state tournament before bowing out. It was super cool, especially because this is Indiana, where they made a movie about our state’s obsession with high school basketball (Hoosiers for the Americans reading this, Best Shot for the Brits).
In the seven seasons since then, we’ve only made the round of 16 once. Here’s the catch, though: Most of those teams that didn’t make a run were better than the team that did. But the team that did struck at the right time, as most of the schools in our path that year were having “down” years.
I’m sure you can look through the history of English football and find a similar trend — you’ll discover better teams than this year’s Villa squad who have gone down, unlucky to be in that year’s top flight, and you’ll find the opposite — worse teams than this Villa squad that somehow stayed up.
At this point, with 14th-placed Southampton seven points clear of the drop, this relegation battle is squarely a six-team race to survival. It’s not quite Thunderdome rules — six teams teams enter, three teams leave here — but it’s pretty close. Villa don’t need to be good by any objective standard, they just need to be less bad than the teams they’re battling with.
That’s quite doable, irrespective of tonight’s result. Don’t believe me? Here’s a fun fact about each of Villa’s relegation rivals (point totals in parentheses):
- Since beating Villa at the start of February, Bournemouth (27) have conceded nine goals and won just one point from four matches. They have a four-match run coming up where they play, in order, Manchester United, Tottenham, Leicester City and Manchester City.
- Brighton & Hove Albion (29) have not won a match in 2020. Five of their next six matches are against Arsenal, Leicester City, Liverpool, Manchester City and Manchester United.
- We have decided Norwich City (21) are showing signs of life, I guess. They have now won two Premier League matches since the start of December.
- After everyone declared Watford (27) safe in mid-January, the Hornets have won just one of their last seven matches. Though that was against Liverpool, which... what? Why?
- West Ham United (27) have picked up five points from their last nine Premier League fixtures (1-2-6).
Here are two more fun facts, which are about the group as a whole:
- Every club in the relegation scrap has won exactly four of 14 home matches this season, except Villa, who have won five of their 13
- No club in the relegation scrap has won more than three times away this season
These are bad teams! Any one of them could go on a decent run here and create some distance between them and the competitors, but all of them could also continue to be bad for the remainder of the season, dropping the target needed for survival lower and lower each week.
It is absolutely frustrating to follow a team like this Villa side, where you never know if you’re going to get a strong performance (like City in the cup final) or an abjectly awful one (like Southampton the week before). But at the end of the day, the calibre of the teams around them suggests that Villa may only need to get it right three or four times from their remaining 11 matches — and that remains true, no matter how poor any one result is. Stay patient, stay behind the lads, and hopefully we’ll turn up just enough times to finish 17th.