Football FanCast columnist Richard Marsh wonders what this season has in store for Aston Villa.
Aston Villa are always there or thereabouts, never in relegation danger, yet never a title contender. What will they come up with this season?
A home defeat to Wigan on the opening day of the season left many Villa fans wondering what Martin O'Neill had done in selling Gareth Barry and not replacing him.
Those with no face wondered if he had gone mad. Those who believed said, just wait, he will work something out.
After Saturday's win at home to Chelsea, it would appear O'Neill has worked something out.
Villa were simply fantastic against Chelsea, rarely has a team worked so hard for 3 points, it is a long lost team requirement. Villa chased every ball, not 99%, but 100%, for every single minute of the game. Martin O'Neill could not have got more out of his players.
Set piece goals from star men Collins and Dunne showed that Villa have also perfected the art of clinical set piece finishing, an alarming number of their goals are from set pieces, it could hurt them later in the season, but set pieces are a large part of the modern game, so Villa should be fine.
What O'Neill needs now though, is for his side to work as hard as they did on Saturday, for the rest of the season, if they can do that, and produce goals as well, then there's no reason they could not challenge the top 6.
In previous years the top four were seen to be getting further away in terms of quality and strength and depth from the rest of the premiership. This season is very different, the rest have caught up, no question about it, and Villa is certainly included in that group. United, Chelsea Liverpool and Arsenal are no stronger than they were last season.
The Gareth Barry affair surely distracted them, and the squad was perhaps too inexperienced at balancing a premiership attack with a UEFA cup challenge. Martin O'Neill took the decision to field a weakened side in the UEFA cup, effectively to resign from the competition which was a decision nobody seemed to approve of. A European trophy is a highly coveted thing and should not be taken for granted, in the end it backfired, and hopefully O'Neill has learnt from it.
Agbonlahor and Young still have some developing to do to become consistent Premiership superstars, Agbonlahor is looking better and better as an all-round striker with lightning pace, while Young is learning that you have to work hard to be a superstar.
Villa also seem now to have replaced Martin Laursen, James Collins has come and slotted straight in next to the other new boy, Richard Dunne, on Saturday they both showed superb do or die attitudes, they were going to win that game no matter what, and both showed their goal scoring capabilities. They were the epitome of Villa on Saturday.
This defensive partnership could prove a bedrock for another challenge at European football. With Curtis Davies waiting in the wings should a suspension or injury occur, then Villa are looking strong defensively, and with Petrov, Reo-Coker, Milner, Sidwell, Young and Downing still to come, their midfield has plenty of options.
Only in attack do they lack numbers, Carew and Heskey are the same player and the only other option is Agbonlahor, one more striker in January would be just fine.
Saturday showed Villa at their best, and they have now beaten two of the big four sides already this season. They have shown they can compete with the best, the question is, can they compete with the best consistently?
They have the potential, they have the talent, but can Martin O'Neill do a Chelsea every week? This is what all Villa fans will be hoping for.
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