Carlton Palmer, while speaking exclusively to Football FanCast’s Tom Ward, has backed Dean Smith to deliver the impossible dream and guide Aston Villa into Europe this season.
The Villans staved off the threat of Premier League relegation on the final day of last season, but have turned their fortunes around drastically this term to sit just two points behind fifth-placed West Ham United after the opening 10 rounds of fixtures.
Villa hold a game in hand over the London Stadium natives, too, which with a win could see Smith move the Birmingham-based outfit into the top-four with the claret and blue side boasting a better goal difference than Brendan Rodger’s fourth-placed Leicester City.
Palmer has lauded Smith for the work he has carried out to change Villa’s fortunes for the better after a challenging debut campaign in the top-flight, with the 49-year-old now in charge of a well-organised unit.
“I think Villa could push for a top-six, top-seven finish this season. I think they really could. I think they’re hard-working and they’re very well-organised now,” Palmer told Football FanCast.
Aston Villa ended the 2019/20 campaign just a point above the drop zone with a final day draw at West Ham United enough to force AFC Bournemouth to join Norwich City and Watford in falling into the Championship.
Smith struggled to establish Villa as a top-flight side during his first season as a Premier League head coach, with the Villans allowing the second-most goals (67) in the division with only the basement boys Norwich shipping more (75). Only the Canaries (27) and Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth (22) lost on more occasions (21), too.
Villa have been an almost entirely different unit defensively since the summer, with league-leaders Tottenham Hotspur (9), plus Chelsea (10), Manchester City (11), West Ham (11), Wolves (11) and Arsenal (12) the only sides to have allowed fewer goals than Smith’s men (13) in the new campaign thus far.
The Birmingham-based side also rank 11th in the division for the highest number of shots allowed per game this season with 11.9, the same as Spurs who top the table with 21 points having lost just once in ten games.
In fact, Smith’s work to better organise the Villans backline has seen the claret and blue side earn WhoScored’s best defensive rating of the season so far at 6.97, thanks to registering an average 12.4 tackles and 10.4 interceptions, catching the opponent offside 1.9 times and committing just 11.3 fouls a game.
That’s a distant cry from last season, which saw Villa rank 17th with 16 shots allowed per game while recording fewer tackles per game than all bar Manchester City and Bournemouth.