Dave Woodhall on Villa’s successful start to the season.
Four weeks, three league games, two international breaks and a cup knockout into the season, and Villa’s start has been into the territory of Beyond Your Wildest Dreams.
Yes, there was the minor setback of a League Cup defeat but that was soon forgotten with the result last Sunday, which as expected was met with incredulity around the world. It’s finally sunk in that the team really did play like that, and it’s a toss-up which was the more surprising – Villa scoring seven times against Liverpool, or being a bit disappointed that there weren’t more. It really was that good.
Villa went into the second, and just as pointless as the first, international break with a 100% league record, with the outlook brighter than it has been for years, and with a genuine feeling that we really are on the way back and this time we mean it.
We didn’t even seem to mind too much that there was no last-minute shopping on the final day of the international transfer window. An extra signing or two would have been nice, but with less time than usual until the shop opens again, we should now be able to cope with all but the most serious injury crisis. That said, I’d love to think that somewhere in the lower divisions there’s an overlooked central defender or midfielder we could still pick up to add a bit of squad depth.
It might seem annoying to have to break off from the league programme again when things are going so well, although as I said in the aftermath of THAT result, it might also work to Villa’s favour that the pressure’s off us for a week or so. It certainly gives Jack Grealish another chance to show his international pedigree, although the game against Wales would have been a vivid reminder of what it’s like to play alongside inferior team-mates (with one notable exception). That’s the sort of thing he doesn’t have to worry about at Villa any more, although it’s probably given Gareth Southgate an excuse to drop him .
Talking of breaks, it’s strange how having to start the season a week later than anyone else might have worked in our favour. Had Villa kicked off the season against Manchester City as they should have done, the team would have been without the majority of our new signings. No Martinez, Watkins or Traore, and Villa would have been a different team entirely.
A routine defeat against City would have seemed like business as usual, and the entire club’s confidence might have taken a knock. Instead we were able to start against Sheffield United and Fulham, one of whom look like struggling and the other looks to be sinking without trace. Two wins, everyone feeling a lot happier than they might have otherwise, and the rest is history. The defensive solidity that kept us up has if anything improved, midfield is unrecognisable and up front Ollie Watkins must have doubled his value already.
The next game is away at Leicester, who’d started off well before their own part in Mad Sunday. In what’s already becoming the most memorable and unpredictable season for years, thoughts are bound to turn to what they did five years ago. It’s a bit to early to think that history might repeat itself so for now I’ll settle for a vast improvement on the dismal performances we endured last season in the league games against them.