Right, here we are, bit of a hangover from a roller coaster of a season that was one for the ages. I’m still sort of dazed. It’s all happening and then, wham, it’s done.

What actually happened? Well, Villa pretty much did the unthinkable. Unai Emery completed the dream run of not only saving us from relegation, but getting us back into Europe, into a semifinal, and then back onto the biggest stage in the world. Sawiris’ and Edens’ stated goal of reaching the Champions League seemed to have gone perhaps irreparably off track. And then Emery.

We know his pre- and post-match comments by heart: Always demanding. Always playing within our structure, our plan. Always improving, working hard. And damned if that wasn’t pretty much what happened. Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that we didn’t lose two Premier League games in a row. However bad one day was, there was a response after.

And I feel more than a little vindicated in pointing out that in previous seasons that Villa didn’t get enough draws. We either won or lost, but never managed to pick up enough of those wobbly or disappointing points that ultimately make a difference.

You look at the table, and it’s all fairly obvious: Goal difference? Yeah. Wins, yeah. But the difference between City and Arsenal? Two draws. Difference between Villa and Spurs? Two draws. As the good book has it, if you aren’t going to win, don’t lose. The draw with Liverpool in the penultimate game? That sure felt like a win.

Not losing back-to-back matches and scraping eight draws equaled consistency and ultimately put Villa in the promised land. Doing that while playing in Europe and suffering an unbelievable rash of big injuries to key players in a thin squad? Absolutely unreal, as we know all too well. Still, there was consistency. Chugging along. Shaking off bad days. Making your own luck. We actually did dust ourselves off and go again.

We saw players improve, yes. But what we really saw was coaching. A system, and better individual decisions as a result. Sometimes it felt a bit slow and creaky. Sometimes it was nerve-wracking, playing out. But the insistence on a certain style—responsibilities, positioning, decision points—was the biggest factor. Players knew when to let loose or pull it back in. (For the most part.) And we saw in many matches, whether due to injury, suspension, or rotation, players playing out of their best positions. But they still knew what to do, even if the moves left them a bit outside their strengths.

And naturally we saw tactical changes. We saw good substitutions. Even when we really didn’t have many options.

So that’s what makes the season special for me. Emery said all along there were seven or so better teams. He wasn’t wrong. But he got the most out of his team. And it was enough. All the other clubs who’ve been in the ‘Big Six’ for years now, look at their team sheets, and appreciate how Villa overcame so much adversity to edge three of them. On paper, any of the other top eight sides are better and deeper. Yet here we are.

Naturally everyone’s looking at transfers right now, who stays, who goes. How do we strengthen within PSR? I’ll get into that in a following post. Just as I will the immense difficulty of simply staying where we are.

In the meantime, I just want to savor the moment a little longer. Villa did a big thing. Villa did what the owners said they wanted. They did what the supporters wanted, and they entertained the hell out of us along the way. I’m exhausted, never mind the players.

Is it a one-off? Dunno, don’t care. All I know is that Villa have finally shown us it’s possible. They delivered. They learned a hell of a lot. What’s next? We stay demanding. We work to play in our structure. We go again.

Over to you.

Comments 36

  1. Great script John. I have to agree with all of your points mentioned. And whilst I’m here, my grateful thanks to you for keeping this blog available for us to register our thoughts about all matters AVFC, complain at the ugly, our fears, our hopes and yes finally being able to revel in a real achievement.

    I did grumble a little at our performance at Palace. Nassef was in attendance at Selhurst Park and I’m sure he didn’t show to watch what he did. However, he must have watched in wonderment at the away support in full voice all game and I bet he could only imagine what it would be like should we actually win a trophy. Right now, 4th place feels like a trophy.

    As Lifers know, I do get to VP for the home games. Away games are a different animal as getting tickets is problematic. I’ve witnessed a huge uptick in performances since Unai arrived. I’m convinced he’s going to take us even higher. Fresh in the memory is the loss of Emi and Tyro for the whole season within 3 days of the off not to mention the battering at St James’ Park. I did not contemplate then that we would be able to compete like the end of the previous season. But we did despite the set back.

    So I’ll revel in the moment all summer. Happy that we’ve cost the Arse the title and delighted to have finished above Manure for once, not to mention above Spurs and Chelsea for 2 seasons running. I’m sure Unai will improve a couple of pieces of the jigsaw and work on our mental strength.

  2. Plug
    I hate losing,kinda used to it as a Villain but Sunday was different really didn’t care,also I have started watching think it’s villa on tour,decent enough podcast but Sunday the footage from our end what an atmosphere, the singing dancing never stopped, they cheered every Palace goal like it was one of ours
    For first time in years didn’t want season to end now can’t wait for fixtures so I can properly plan a trip to promised land,its going on 19 since my last trip too long,David o leary was in charge then
    JC excellent write up again

  3. Thank you, Plug.

    Sawiris at Palace is interesting. I’m quite sure he’s been following along, but it would’ve impressed upon him the need for reinforcements.

    But yeah…still very hard for me to believe what we did accomplish. The double over Arsenal (and keeping them from the title), beating City so classily, juggling the ECL matches and getting so close to a final. A lot of learning, confidence building, and motivation took place.

    Have to agree: Once Emery is able to remake the squad we should execute even better. Very hard to resist getting into all the speculation and possible moves.

  4. Cheers, JG.

    What was revelatory for me was going into games expecting something virtually every time. I’d look at the fixtures think, “ooh, that’ll be tough,” etc., but when kickoff rolled around I always felt like we could get something.

    I hope to be joining you in a far-too-long deferred visit back to VP this season.

  5. What does new season ahead bring,how does emery keep us in or about top 6,how does he improve the squad without significant outlay
    1 fewer injuries would be a start
    2 settled team,refer to point 1
    3 sort out our vampire addiction to crosses
    4 keep more clean sheets
    5 get our central defenders scoring ,we definitely should have more goals from that area,we do ok from our set pieces but like every other aspect of our game improve it by 10% and its more points
    6 hopefully FFP isn’t as tight as some people believe

  6. James, I’m guessing PSR (FFP) is quite tight. I’m expecting some outgoings before any incomings. Monchi is going to be busy finding buyers for those Unai doesn’t wish to retain. All about lowering the annual wage bill. New replacements will be amortised to spread the costs which helps.

    The elephant in the room is UEFA’s PSR regs which relate to 70% of turnover on player costs. The EPL has been a bit looser on the 70% but as 7 teams (or 8) from the EPL wish to enter the UEFA competitions, then the 70% rule will need to be met. It’s why income becomes king.

  7. The FA Cup was a surprise. Two teams I don’t like too much.
    Pochettino and Ten Hag are both top drawer managers who have been torpedoed by (1) an idiot and (2) a mini season long revolt by some players.
    Neither team deserved redemption next year and I see Radcliffe being another Bohely.
    Talking about next year it’s going to be an excruciatingly tough one with 8 teams vying for Europe and another 4 pushing to be top 10. Then mid table of 5 of which one or two will make a go of it. The bottom 3 are going to be cut adrift before Christmas. The only fly in this will be point deductions due to FFP.
    I was a little disappointed with the prospect of some of the academy’s players being in the mix of a possible sale but all emotion aside the money side of things is most important and I have said in the past that the academy is for making money more than producing 1st team players.

  8. Yeah, Ian…One of those games you hope both sides could lose.

    You’re right about the academy, too. Nice when they come through, and maybe we’ll do better at that going forward, but no probs selling and getting pure profit.

    Which, naturally, brings us to JJ…Won’t be at all surprised to see him go (because pure profit). Lots of interesting decisions, lots of interesting rumors.

  9. JG,

    Would be nice to have a bit more luck on the injury front. No idea how Emi, Ty and Bouba will be coming back. No idea whether they all figure in the plans. But to your point about crosses, etc., we desperately need someone dominant in the air like Mings.

    Can see Carlos going, no idea whether Unai wants to try and sign Lenglet permanently (not a bad backup).

  10. I can see some of the players returning from injury being sold. 4th place without them makes their spot precarious plus the unknown about their recovery. I’d be sad, for a week, if Carlos left just as I’ve literally forgotten about Lenglet who I rated. Players who have left? Can hardly remember them. Well, N’Zogbia, because he was so useless. Sort of like Bruce. You remember the really good or really bad.

  11. CNZ…there’s a blast from the past.

    Yeah, I wonder about Mings, at least the 2nd ACL/MCL he’s had. Buendia, too. I think Emi would suit Emery’s system, but we paid a lot and he might be on the block if there are any takers.

  12. Nassef says Unai has signed a new 5 year contract taking him up to 2029. For me, this is the best news possible. He obviously feels comfortably at home here and the owners are obviously planning long term. This is just great news.

  13. Others have already said it, but I’ll add my own ‘Thank-you’ to JC for keeping this forum going and the always well informed and interesting new thread headers.
    This one is no exception and it is good, right now to think back to how far we’ve come, and why.
    As Plug and JG have already pointed out, it’s fantastic news that Emery has now signed a new 5 year contract, but also interesting, I think, that he’s had a change of job title, from coach to manager. It confirms his absolutely pivotal role within the club, and is a clear demonstration that he has control of which players we sell and recruit, and how we utilise them.
    The trend has tended to be to move away from the all powerful manager role, but when the thinking of the owners and manager are so closely aligned and the manager is able to involve, and carry the players along with that vision, it can be the ideal answer. It’s taken us from the brink of relegation to Champion’s league football in less than 2 seasons so right now, it’s not hard to buy into that vision.

  14. Ian mentioned players with injuries and the impact on their future playing careers. This article about Wesley shines a light on just what an impact such injuries ‘can’ have on players, mentally as well as physically: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/aston-villa-22m-signing-bravely-29247301?int_source=nba
    It’s so easy to fall into the trap of forgetting that players have lives, wives, and feelings, beyond the football pitch. We only see around 1% of their lives, the bit where they step on the football pitch.
    I have held a grudge against Ben Mee since he made that tackle, but this article brought back what a horrendous tackle it was, and how unfair it was that Mee was able to get up and carry on with his life and playing career, with apparently little remorse for the impact he’d had on the player and all those around him.
    I’m so glad that the authorities are clamping down on such horror tackles, and if they get it wrong sometimes, and send off players somewhat harshly, then it’s probably a price worth paying to inhibit the excesses of players like Ben Mee

  15. I’ve just seen an article which says that Emery has been “warned of a tactical issue” which was hurting us, particularly towards the end of the season. This article points out that “Villa conceded the most goals by far out of the top four, conceding more than Liverpool with 61 goals, a tally that put Emery’s side 10 goals below relegation-threatened Everton for the season.”

    Well firstly, Villa were fourth, rather than third, second or first, for a reason. The first 3 teams were better than us and it’s no surprise that they had better goals for and against statistics. They ‘could’ have pointed out that no team from 4th to 7th had a better goals against record than Villa, but that wouldn’t have fitted the narrative. Outside of the top 3, it’s only Everton that had a significantly better goals against record than Villa , but only Sheffield had a worse ‘goals for’ record than Everton too. . . so what’s the ‘expert’ suggesting. . . .that we should ditch Emery and go for Dyche?

    We played more games than almost everyone else, and by the end of the season it was starting to tell, so they probably have a point when they say that teams were starting to exploit our tactics towards the end of the season, but let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that what we saw at the end of the season means that we need major tactical change next season. . . . .what we need is fit , well drilled players, capable of playing to the tactics that Emery sets for them.

  16. RObb0, we all know the reason behind our tail off towards the end of the season. Games played, injury list and leg weariness of a small squad to begin with. The rebuild and strengthening is an ongoing project with Nassef, Wes and Unai at the helm for the immediate 5 years to come at least. The “experts” have to write some scripts so turn the stats to suit a narrative that fills a hole. It’s all drivel of course, as all us Lifers know.

    We score goals, play with some jeopardy and concede too. Just needs a stronger squad and that takes time. It would be quicker without FFP/PSR regs but we will get there. At the moment Heck is tinkering with the seating arrangements in the Holte End and North stand but I can’t see these tweaks increasing revenue by any significant amount. We need continual European games to generate the real money together with sponsorship, advertising, merchandizing and world exposure. The European games are Unai’s domain, the rest are down to Heck.

  17. Interesting in that I read our tail-off began right after Bouba’s injury. Wouldn’t put it all down to that, but it was a big blow and changed a number of positional choices/options.

    Saw one mention that Villa have agreed a 2-year deal with Ross, optional 3rd. Obvs nothing official, but (depending on terms) I think that’s a good signing. He really looked back to his best with Luton, and I’m sure Emery can use him wisely.

  18. Plug, you’re right, many of the football media ‘experts’ earn a living from writing stuff so it’s inevitable some some of them will either feel an obligation to get their two/three articles out there every day even if they have nothing useful to say, or will produce some clickbait headline to suck in the pundits. There are good ones out there who provide genuine news or interesting insights, but it’s damn hard to identify them amongst all the nonsense.
    Heck is coming in for some criticism again just now, concerning the North stand changes, and minimal communication, but until it’s proven otherwise, I’m happy that our owners trust him to maximise our income on a sustainable basis. Football fans are so passionate, that whatever he does, and tells us about will have it’s ardent detractors, so it must be tempting for him to just get on with his job, confident in the knowledge that the owners are supporting him

  19. JC, that last bit of your comment is surely the most important one. . . I’m confident that Emery can use him wisely too. Not only that, he has inherent quality, and must surely increase the overall quality and strength of our squad for next season. You would get excited, rather than nervous if he were to come off the bench, and if he plays consistently well, you know that Emery would include him in our starting line up.

  20. Absolutely, r0bb0. He was dominating games for long stretches.

    Dunno if there’s anything in it, and I’ll check, but saw something about Luiz and Fiorentina talks. Will be extremely interesting to see the financial math at play in strengthening.

    Also, agree with you about Heck. There are decisions that no matter what, someone is going to be unhappy. NSWE lived up to their promises, and we can see with PSR that Villa have to maximize revenue to stay in touching distance of the promised land. It’s a cruel, unforgiving business…and if we don’t want to view it as a business, we need to accept that means no CL. All sounds very cavalier of me, but I don’t know what else to say.

  21. JC, yes, CL is vital to a club aspiring to greatness now, but I hope it’s seen as a means to an end, with the end goal being actually winning trophies. You couldn’t help feeling that CL football was the end goal for Levy’s Spurs, rather than just a stepping stone. If achieving a top 4 place CL becomes everything, then you may be happy to lose in other cup tournaments, and aren’t THAT bothered about actually winning the league. . . . . what matters most , is that the CL money boosts the bank balance every year.

  22. Watched Olympiacos v Fiorentina final last night. As a spectacle, it was poor. Fiorentina did not have anyone who could put the ball in the net and El Kaabi who destroyed us was non existent until he did the business with 5 minutes of extra time left. Think it was his only chance.

    It was a different type of game to the semis. Our high line suited El Kaabi to a tee. Fiorentina decided that wasn’t going to happen to them so they dropped deep when out of possession. Led to safety first and a boring game. Which leaves me thinking that the high line compresses the play and produces goals for and against. To reduce the against column, we really need a couple of greyhounds in our back line capable of racing the El Kaabi’s and Jackson’s on this world. Find those and ….. drool, drool.

  23. Plug,

    That’s exactly it…Last season it was Mings and Konsa, who are both faster than Torres, Lenglet or Carlos. Mings has excellent recovery speed and has good upper body strength.

    The high line does support possession, but obviously leaves a lot of space to run into, so that’s your tradeoff. When a team’s plan is to recover the ball and quickly hit it long it can lead to a long day if those balls are accurate enough of the time. We also very often play narrow at the back in this scheme, which leaves wide space largely uncontested. The middle (including the DM) has to be really tight to keep the resulting crosses, cut-ins and cutbacks leading to high-quality chances.

    Not sure if statistics actually bear it out, but also seems we were also more willing to sit deeper more often last year, playing 6 across the back at times. Feels like there were more matches where you felt like we’d see out 1-0 without too much drama.

    I like Torres, but Mings’ absence had a big effect this season.

  24. Really interesting discussion on our back line. Assuming that Ming’s is able to regain his form, there’ll be some interesting decisions to be made. He’s recovered from bad injury before, so he probably has the mental strength to do it, but do the extra few years make it much more difficult?

    I think we all felt nervous of our high line, but until the end of the season, our well drilled defensive line, plus VAR, plus the world’s best goalkeeper, meant that we were able to use it effectively. We did start shipping more goals towards the end of the season, which some will read as ‘the opposition working out how to play us’, but (to my mind at least) it was more down to our constantly changing back line, and defensive midfield, due to tiredness and injuries.

    As has been said, a fully fit Ming’s should make the backline even more effective, but he’ll also give very welcome aerial support when defending against set pieces in particular.

    Will Emery try to incorporate all three of Torres, Mings and Konsa in the centre of defence, or will Konsa stay out at right back, or will we just rotate more, provided all are fit. I’m sure the manager’s thinking through these options and has probably already worked out what he fancies doing, provided all options remain fit.

  25. Anybody hanging on what might happen with Citeh’s 115 charges need look no further than UEFA at this moment in time. They have rules in place about multi club ownerships and conflict of interest that can prevail. They’ve just cleared Manure to play in the Europa League despite Ineos also holding part ownership of Nice who are also in the same competition next year. One of them should have been banned under the rules but UEFA have bent the rules to allow both teams to compete. Same applies to Citeh and Girona in the Champions League.

    It’s obvious that UEFA are not willing to administer their own rules where the big money is in play. Their credibility is shot to pieces. Of course, we already knew this. Their club co-efficient rules ensure the big money retains full advantage over the lesser teams. You can smell the stink in Antarctica.

  26. Plug, this article throws a little more light on the application of the rules:https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/man-utd-man-city-handed-29283694#comments-wrapper
    It does seem that the rules have been bent to assist United and City, with a suggestion that this is an interim measure, and they”ll have to fully comply next year. We weren’t given the same leeway though?
    We’ll believe that they’ll apply their own rules next year when we see it. . . but let’s face it, we all expect that they’ll again bend the rules, although maybe in a different way to help any ‘big’ clubs
    who are struggling with the rules. Actually. . . .maybe it’s not the clubs they’re bending the rules for, but their wealthy and ‘influential’ owners.

  27. Beaky has to trim his squad after Friday’s warm up against Iceland. From what I’ve seen so far, he simply must take Konsa because he’s a useful utility player and he must take Watkins and prepare a set up that provides chances for him. Bosnia played 5 at the back with a bank of 4 in front of them. Hardly any intention to change that system all game. We will face more games like that but Beaky just didn’t get any width after Eze departed. Kane comes on for Ollie once the opposition are tiring and it makes him look good. Jack looks miles more threatening than Bowen but is not part of the Laandan brigade.

    All in all, I see us coming up short again.

  28. Transfer stuff starting to gain a little momentum…Particularly Luis to Juve and the Weston McKennie swap deal. I think this one probably has legs.

    I think it’s just a fact that we’re going to have to let one or two big players go…They’re valued on the market and earning high wages. Makes sense to sell, all down to Monchi finding equal or better quality at a lower price.

    Which I think can be done. We watch other teams do it all the time.

    I like Dougie. He’s really grown and is an important player. And if he wants to leave, go to Italy, then that’s fine. He ran his socks off and did a lot for the club.

    McKennie? He’s a good player, seems his valued half of what Luis is (€30m vs €60m). So there’d be other players or cash involved. Net positive. I also think he’s more aggressive and stronger than Luis, probably faster as well. Better ball winner, bags of energy.

    So you might lose a little something in terms of creativity, but it might well balance out in our favor, all things considered. Physicality, aggression, ball-winning, speed: Those are the areas where Villa need to improve, and Dougie’s pretty light in that regard, tbh.

  29. Barkley?

    Looks a completely different player. Very fit, aggressive, covers a lot of ground and has great quality on the ball. Basically the reason Luton had any chance.

    So, he’s back to the player we thought we were getting and he’s got a lot to prove. When you consider the fee being discussed is €5m? That’s a no-brainer for me. Instantly improves our depth, aggression, strength, speed, quality. Far far better option than Dendoncker or Iroegbunam, and he’ll be well in the frame to be a regular in the starting XI, I think.

    I would wager that we’re better off all-round with Barkley and McKennie and giving up Luis, especially if we get money or a player or two along with Weston.

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