Having missed out on the Champions League last season Aston Villa seem to be doing everything right this season to ensure they don’t miss out again. Already this season they have beaten Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, three of the so called Big Four and can look forward to taking on Arsenal next Sunday where they could potentially pull off another scalp.
Villa would be playing in this season Champions League on for injuries to key players around this time last term, and in particular to defender Martin Laursen, who subsequently retired due to his injury. As a result, Villa began to drop points, while Arsenal gained ground and secured the final Champions League spot.
Fast-forward a year, and manager Martin O’Neill has managed to tighten up the leaks at the back having brought in a range of players. The back four consists of Brad Friedel in goal, Luke Young and Stephen Warnock on the wings, while Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar man central defence.
Between them they have all the attributes of a classic defence: strong, organised, powerful and solid. If you look at how many goals they have conceded this season you will see the tally stands at just 14, the fewest goals conceded in the league. The team closest to them is Chelsea who have left in 15 goals.
The Villans have kept also kept seven clean sheets this season, with only Chelsea keeping more than them, at nine.
As well as facing Arsenal on Sunday, The Villans have a home fixture to contend with against Liverpool next Tuesday.
Confidence however, is high in the Villa camp according to striker John Carew: “We’re really looking forward to these games and we go into them full of confidence.
In previous weeks, even Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has backed Villa to break into the Big Four: “Martin won’t like me saying this but for me if I was a betting man my money would be on Villa to break into the top four,”
“As for the title race, they are not that out of the equation but whether they are title contenders I am not too sure but they will be my bet to break into the top four.”
Only three sides have gate-crashed the Premier League’s Big Four in the last nine seasons and they are: Everton (2004-05), Newcastle (2001-02/2002-03) and Leeds (2000-01). So Villa have it all to do in their quest for fourth place, but I believe they can do it.
Not only do I think they can crack the Big Four, they also have a fantastic chance of winning the Carling Cup, a trophy very close to Martin O’Neill’s heart having won it twice in 1997 and 2000 with Leicester City, and finishing runner up in 1999. Only Blackburn stand in their way of reaching their first domestic final in nine years.
Having notched up four straight wins in the Premier League and no goals conceded in those four games, Villa currently lie fourth level on points with Arsenal who are in third, with a game in hand.
They also boast a very impressive scoring record. Since losing 2-0 to Wigan on the opening day of the season, Villa have found the back of the net in every game. Their home form is also impeccable – because they have not lost at Villa Park since the opening day.
Therefore, to sum up, I shall answer the question in the title of the piece. Can Villa crack the Big Four? Yes they ruddy well can!
(Kudos to @optajoe for the stats.)