During Alex McLeish and Stiliyan Petrov’s press conference in Hong Kong the gaffer was pressed on his expectations for the coming season. He ruled out another top-four challenge, and indicated that it would be difficult for the club to improve on their 9th-place finish a year ago. Marc Albrighton said before the club departed for Hong Kong that Aston Villa were a “European club” and should be challenging for Europe this season.

It’s possible that the manager is trying to take pressure off his team, but looking at stature, fan support, revenue, and wages the young winger is right. While Europe is not a birthright, the club should be in the mix for the European places, whether it be via league position or making runs in the cups.

Looking at where the club is this year there is a wide variance of possible outcomes for this season.

If McLeish can solidify the defense, reintegrate marginalized players like Warnock and Ireland, and Gabby and Bent can form a productive strike partnership, the top six is not impossible. Fulham’s season started a month ago, and their squad will surely be tested with such a long European campaign. Everton have no money and are doing everything they can to keep together the same team that finished 7th. While Liverpool have splashed the cash, Arsenal and Spurs are in varying degrees of turmoil. In this best-case scenario Villa could finish ahead of two out of the three.

No relegation battle

Conversely, it’s not hard to imagine Ireland and Warnock failing to perform after they were both so terrible last year. There is also a chance that the leaky defense last year was not down to tactics but personnel, and bringing back the same defenders could yield the same results.

But even in this worst-case scenario Villa still wouldn’t be real relegation candidates. First, because a full season with Darren Bent alone should guarantee the club score enough goals. Second, the three promoted clubs this year—QPR, Norwich, and Swansea—appear to be far weaker than the three who were promoted last year: Newcastle, West Brom, and Blackpool. The first two were fairly safe most of the season, and Blackpool were relegated with 39 points, which would have been enough to stay up in most years. Blackburn and Wigan were also fortunate to stay up last year and figure to be early relegation candidates.

In an absolute worst-case scenario Villa could be 14th or 15th. There might be a few hairy moments but it’s very difficult to see Villa going down.

Out of any club in the league there isn’t another club who could conceivably finish anywhere from 6th to 15th. In life, the truth is usually somewhere in the middle, which would back up McLeish’s comments.

That said, Albrighton was not far off the mark in stating the club should be back in Europe. Any athlete has to expect and visualize the best-case scenario. In any team with a semblance of camaraderie the players have to believe in each other and expect good things to happen. Europe should be the goal and I hope all the players in the changing room share that goal and ambition. European qualification would be a good stepping stone if the club are to have any hope of mounting another top-four charge any time soon. Given all the variables in play at the moment, uncertainty still reigns.

The fans really don’t know what to expect from their club. Chatting with other Villans over Twitter this close season has been particularly angst-ridden. Uncertainty will do this. That’s what makes this season so fascinating as the club embark on the Alex McLeish era. Only time will tell what will happen. In the meantime, we will all read too much into preseason friendlies and baseless rumors in the papers (except The Express and Star, which is a bastion of journalistic integrity and features our own Matt Turvey) looking for any indication as to how things will break.

I, for one, can’t wait until August 13th.

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