So, the Premier League season is finally upon us and Villa are back in the big time for the first time since 15th May 2016, when we lost 4-0 away at Arsenal, courtesy of an Olivier Giroud hat-trick.
In that impressive (for all the wrong reasons) season, we finished rock-bottom, managing a measly 3 victories – with our biggest win of the season (2-0) coming against also relegated Norwich, who managed to double our final points tally of 17, despite finishing only one place above us. During the 15/16 season we had 4 different managers, a torrent of players who let us down badly, some awful signings – as well as some good ones who never found their feet at Villa but have gone on to much bigger and better things since – and major fan discontent at the way our brilliant club was being run into the ground.
Fast forward just 3 years and all of that has been replaced by optimism, encouragement and pure excitement for a genuinely bright future. A lot of that is down to the people at the very top. We finally have good owners with competent footballing people underneath them. Not only that though, we have players who genuinely seem to care about the club and who are keen to give back to the fans, all led by a manager who loves the club personally and fits Aston Villa to perfection professionally.
Ever since Deano took charge we have been a completely different team, playing good, entertaining football and taking the game to every team that we have played. He led us back to the promised land in May, quicker than surely even he expected and since then every single member of the club staff has been working over-time to get us ready for this moment.
The transfer window is now closed, the squad is set and it’s almost time for our first game back where we belong. Bring in Spurs!
Our form going into our league opener has been good. Admittedly it’s only been pre-season where the results don’t matter and opposition has been weaker but what has been really impressive is the way in which we have played. We’ve looked consistently good on the ball, trying to play our football on the floor, and solid partnerships have started to be formed, none more so than the two new signings on the right; Jota and Guilbert.
Talking of new signings, most of our pre-season efforts have been seen off the field. No fewer than 12 signings have been made, with 15 first-team players leaving the club, either permanently or on loan. This was necessary as the ageing, unbalanced and mediocre squad, in terms of Premier League ability, was in dire need of a freshen up. The biggest test though will be the length of time it takes for the newcomers to gel. The signs looked good during pre-season. Also the fact that we’ve kept the main core of our team and that Smith has brought in a few players he has worked with before should mean that we are okay on this front but that could all change, should we lose a few on the bounce.
Our head-to-head record against Spurs reads as follows: P – 163; W – 56; D – 35; L – 72. So Tottenham edge it slightly, but if we look more recently at this fixture then it doesn’t make pretty reading. Our last victory against them came in 2015, courtesy of a Christian Benteke (remember him?!) header which delighted then manager Tim Sherwood, as he beat his former team 1-0.
Other than that though, it hasn’t been great. We’ve lost 13 of our last 17 games against Spurs, losing 2-0 in both our most recent fixture and in March 2016, in the FA Cup and Premier League resepctively.
This week our opposition’s view comes from Jamie Brown from The Daily Hotspur and the Last Word on Spurs podcast:
1) How has your pre-season been?
Pre-season has been a success for Tottenham Hotspur this year, claiming wins over Juventus, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Beating teams with such stature in European football should hopefully be a big confidence boost for the players, especially after the fallout after last season’s Champions League final disappointment. But, I think the biggest thing for Spurs this pre-season has been having all our key men returning for the start and not having featured in an international tournament. Seeing our players go deep into last year’s World Cup was exciting, but I think it hindered us, as players didn’t get a proper chance to rest – which in turn lead to so many injuries being suffered. So with Harry Kane and others having had a chance to rest and recuperate – I hope they will be raring to go on Saturday.
2) What business have Spurs completed during the transfer window and how do you rate it as a whole?
8/10 – Most importantly, Mauricio Pochettino’s top targets were acquired with Tanguy Ndombele (€63M) and Giovani Lo Celso (€60M) both arriving for close to club record fees. This has allowed us to strengthen our biggest issue of concern last season; central midfield. Tanguy Ndombele, Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks are likely to be the trio starting in midfield on Saturday and that combination fills me with a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. I think that Ryan Sessegnon and Jack Clarke are also big additions for Spurs and under Pochettino will both go a very long way. Clarke going back to Leeds on loan will be a good move for him, working under Poch’s football mentor Marcelo Bielsa. Sessegnon is a player the club have wanted for a very long time. Last year at Fulham was difficult for him, but given the stable structure in place at the club, I think we will see the Sessegnon that seriously impressed in the Championship two seasons ago.
3) How do you think Spurs will line-up against Villa?
Lloris; Walker-Peters, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Rose; Winks, Ndombele, Sissoko; Eriksen, Moura, Kane.
Dele Alli misses because of injury and Heung-Min Son is suspended because of his red card at Bournemouth last season. These, of course, are two big blows for Spurs. Full-backs remain an issue at Spurs with doubts over the ability of Kyle Walker-Peters and Danny Rose struggling to stay consistently fit.
4) Who do you believe is your most important player for the upcoming game?
Lucas Moura – The Brazilian was absolutely outstanding towards the end of the last season and continued his form into pre-season. He now finally seems settled at the club, with his Champions League semi-final heroics having created a special bond with the supporters. He will be especially required to step up on Saturday with both Son and Alli missing the game.
5) What is your biggest area of weakness that Villa should look to exploit?
Tottenham failed to address the issue of our full-backs over the summer and that now remains a concern for us. Juan Foyth was the player expected to feature at right-back, but he is now out injured until September. Therefore, Walker-Peters is the man who will instead step into his place. The 22-year-old hasn’t really been given a fair crack at Spurs, but he’s never looked entirely convincing when he has. Perhaps some consistent game time could help develop his game. On the other side, Tottenham still have Danny Rose but whilst he remains a solid player, I would have liked to see the club try to upgrade him. Therefore, I think Villa’s wide men could cause Spurs some issues at full-back.
6) And finally, what is your predicted score?
Tottenham 2-0 Aston Villa.
I’m interested to see how Villa fair this season given they have brought in 12 new players and how they will gel together. I believe Dean Smith will need a few weeks to get his team correct, so along with our quality, Spurs should have the edge.
The optimist in me says that we could get something out of this. Spurs have a few key players out, Kane is notoriously a slow starter and we have played well in pre-season, creating lots of chances and scoring lots goals.
The pessimist in me says that Spurs, especially at home, may just have too much for us with the quality they have.
Begrudgingly I may have to go with the pessimist in me. I think we will have good spells, create some chances and will have plenty of positives to take away from the game but will end up losing the game.
I’m going for Tottenham 2-0 Aston Villa.
Whatever happens though I’m so excited to see us back in the Premier League. So let’s get behind the boys in claret and blue and, win, lose or draw, show them that they have our full support.
Let us know your prediction for today’s game by replying to us on Twitter.
By Daniel Horton (@danno1407)