They sit second from bottom at the foot of the Premier league table facing up to the very real threat that they will be relegated come the end of this Covid-19 affected season. But whisper the lowly league position when you’re in Aston Villa circles, because the players, manager and fans believe they can turn things round and escape the dreaded drop from the top flight to the Championship.
It’s going to be one heck of a challenge but the Villa Park outfit are just two points adrift of the three teams that are above them — West Ham United, Watford and AFC Bournemouth — and they have the huge benefit of having played a game fewer. Yes, it’s on the cards but what is absolutely imperative for head coach Dean Smith is that his troops are fired up and ready to roll when they get the Premier League season campaign back on track with the first game since the league was suspended back in March, as they host Sheffield United tonight at a behind-closed-doors Villa Park.
Smith knows the Blades will prove a tough nut to crack as they try to continue their impressive form before the lockdown rules put paid to football in this country and indeed throughout the world. One change that the Villa chief says that he is very much against is the new rule — voted in by the clubs as the coronavirus pandemic took hold — that has been put in place to allow an increase in the number of substitutes from three to five (and teams can now name nine players on the subs’ bench instead of seven).
Smith believes that the new rule gives outfits with bigger squads an advantage. He told the club’s official website:
“I wasn’t for it. I just believe we started the season with certain rules and now we have changed it. I suppose it helps the clubs with the bigger squads.
“There was talk to change it because there is more risk of injury but having more subs doesn’t help that. I just wanted it to stay as it was. I think Sheffield United were the same. Having five subs gives us the chance to rotate the squad during the game. It is like being away in a World Cup camp and playing a mini-tournament.”
One player who is vital to the Villa cause is Jack Grealish and the enormous speculation surrounding the ace continues as he prepares for the big comeback. Grealish is being linked with a switch to Manchester United and if Villa go down the move can be expected to be ushered through in the off-season. But for now, he fights on in the claret and blue and will hope to continue where he left off, with a fine run of form thanks to Smith changing his position to the left side of the front three as opposed to his berth before that which was patrolling the central midfield. After a lethargic start to the season, Grealish has flourished since switching roles and he has seven goals and six assists in the league to his credit.
Villa want more of the same from Grealish and his team-mates come tonight…