Facing two potential relegation rivals next, in a tough fixture at Carrow Road which precedes a home clash against Brighton and Hove Albion, followed by a difficult run, it’d be fair to say that the fate of relegation hangs in the balance of the next two matches.
The reason I say this is simple: confidence and motivation are huge factors that teams in a relegation scrap require for survival, and tough runs deplete teams of any remaining quantities of those two things. And the run we face after the next two fixtures is frightening.
A trip to the Etihad, a home tie against Liverpool, Wolves away, Newcastle at home, Manchester United away, Chelsea away and Leicester at home. Those seven fixtures, featuring one easter egg in Newcastle and two fairly likely draws in Wolves and perhaps Leicester, are on the whole scary. Giant after giant does not help an underperforming team, and not one currently in the relegation zone.
We need to at least establish four points from the next two games, at the minimum in my book, otherwise, we face the prospect of getting murdered every week. That’ll leave us adrift – and as we found out in 2015/16, once the margin by which you’re in the relegation zone increases it becomes harder and harder to fashion an escape.
We would be cast adrift if we don’t at least pick up the gifts in Newcastle at home, and potential opportunities against Wolves and Leicester. Something that would make the prevention of such an occurence twice as secure is adding four more points by the time we start the difficult run.
We need to pick up points quickly to distance ourselves from the relegation zone, so when we drop points we do not plummet to the foot of the league, and take the gift of Newcastle and opportunities of Wolves and Leicester. Failure to do so, especially on the first point, could almost guarantee relegation. 11 points after 9 games, adding on four points from Norwich and Brighton, wouldn’t be a disaster. It would place us at around 12th in the 2018/19 equivalent table.
After losses to City, Liverpool, United and Chelsea, as well as draws vs Wolves and Leicester and a win against Newcastle, we’d have 16 points after 16 games and lie in 14th per the 2018/19 table. Respectable. But without those four points secured against Norwich and Brighton, we could be as low as 17th, and the lack of confidence would not help us against Wolves, Leicester and Newcastle – So let’s say we lost the Wolves and Leicester games but scraped a win vs Newcastle. 10 would be 18th or 19th in that table.
Even while the 2018/19 season is not the same as this season, it’s fair to say this league is much harsher. Teams have had more TV money to invest after an extra season, and Fulham, Huddersfield and Cardiff have left the league to be replaced by Norwich, Sheffield United and Villa. Fulham never gelled, Huddersfield had no bite or confidence, and Cardiff had no quality and poor luck. All three promoted sides have good systems with good managers, Villa of course differing having spent over £130 million. Point is – The Premier League is harder than it is last year as better teams have replaced those who have departed, and arguably the league is more difficult than it ever has been before. We cannot get away with 10 or 12 points after 16 games in this season – Villa need more, and 16 would be a realistic target.
The difference that those few points can make is huge, especially at these earlier stages of the season. So overall, the message is clear – Villa need to buck their ideas up and gain at least four points from the next two clashes, otherwise, relegation will be all the more likely. We also, if we want to be more sure of safety, must pick up the opportunities of Wolves and Leicester, and sign, seal and deliver the must-wins of Newcastle. We need to stop playing around, dropping points from winning positions, and failing to win crucial games – because soon, the consequences will grow all the more serious.