In the 2019/20 season, Aston Villa avoided relegation by a single point. If that was not already dramatic enough, this single point can be chalked up to be being the beneficiaries of a Hawkeye error against Sheffield United. In the 2020/21 season, Aston Villa find themselves with different concerns than relegation. With a promising squad, many will be left wondering how Aston Villa have reshaped their identity.
Flipping the Script – How Aston Villa Changed Their Fortunes
Leading From the Back- A Tighter Defence
Only Norwich City conceded more goals than Aston Villa in the 2019/20 season. Fast forward a year, and Aston Villa have one of the best defensive records in the league. So what changed?
Step forward, Emiliano Martinez. Martinez spent many a year drifting around, working through scattered loan spells ending with kind comments but no offer of permanent football. After Bernd Leno suffered a horror injury against Brighton & Hove Albion, Martinez finally got his chance to star for Arsenal. A chance he certainly took, starring in both an FA Cup and Community Shield win.
Given the unfortunate fact that you cannot field two goalkeepers, Arsenal had to let Martinez go. Aston Villa were there to pick up the pieces.
Martinez may be the single most commanding goalkeeper in the Premier League. A far cry from the wiry young understudy he once was, the Argentine looks effortless as each game he plucks umpteen crosses out of the air. The result of this move is that Martinez sits second in the race for the Golden Glove.
To credit simply Martinez would be remiss, another player who deserves special recognition is Ezri Konsa.
Konsa has looked exceptional week in week out. A particularly fine example is the clash at The Etihad with Manchester City. Despite City winning 2-0, the standout memory for many will be the relentlessness with which Villa defended. Konsa pulled off block after block, clearance after clearance. This is certainly a man to keep an eye on.
Balance in the Attack for Aston Villa
One problem for Aston Villa was a lack of invention in their attacking options. Teams found it relatively easy to stall Villa, and Villa on more than one occasion could have been criticised for a lack of cutting edge in front of goal. This season, Aston Villa have hit the reset button.
Having struggled with settling with a centre forward, Villa are now happy to utilise new arrival Ollie Watkins regularly. Whilst be no means has Watkins been a goal machine, it would be fair to say that he’s changed the dynamic of Villa’s frontline. Watkins is very adept when it comes to general play, and looks just as comfortable feeding others as he does playing for himself.
That’s not to say that Watkins has not already shown promise of developing into a consistent goal scorer. Performances against Liverpool and Arsenal have showcased glimpses of clinical finishing, and are no doubt a platform that Watkins will be looking to build from.
It would also be fair to say that balance has come from deeper on the pitch. Douglas Luiz and Ross Barkley have been just as important for Aston Villa this season. Barkley has sharpened Villa’s attack, and Luiz has been exceptional in anchoring it.
Villa by no means have a perfect attack, but they’re certainly heading in the right direction.
Super Jack – Aston Villa’s Talisman
There is probably nothing original that could be said about Jack Grealish at this stage. Every superlative has been used, every mealy-mouthed compliment given. The fact is, it’s still difficult to comprehend quite how good Jack Grealish has been this season.
As club captain, Jack Grealish makes a point to set the standard for his team. Never shying away from the ball, Grealish will always show up when the chips are down. The only thing more impressive than his fearless approach is quite how good he is at pulling off what he tries.
Grealish has sprinkled countless moments of magic across the season, whilst it would be disingenuous to pretend that this is a novel observation, it would be unfair not to point it out.
Aston Villa will head into the second half of the season with growing optimism, a position that they would never have imagined in their wildest dreams.