Aston Villa: Will 39 points keep us up?
How many points will be enough to keep Aston Villa in the Premier League? How long is a piece of string comes to mind at first. It’s so close down at the bottom at least seven teams could be relegated come May.
The biggest issue Villa have at the moment is their fate is not in their hands. There’s still plenty of games to get out of trouble, but to slide back into the bottom three at this stage of the season is more than worrying.
Perhaps having games in hand or more points means nothing because there are so many six-pointers left, starting with this weekend.
It’s not just Villa either because the other strugglers also have to square off several times, even before the final game is played. We’ll come to Wigan Athletic versus Villa on the final game of the season later.
West Ham are probably ok on 36 points but any team below them is nowhere near safe. So that leaves nine sides - Southampton (34 points), Stoke (34), Norwich (34), Newcastle (33), Sunderland (31), Wigan (30), Villa (30), Queens Park Rangers (23) and Reading (23).
Southampton have still got to play Reading, West Ham, Swansea City, West Brom, Tottenham, Sunderland and Stoke. Three of those games are six-pointers and you’d expect them to pick up a few points at home against the other sides.
The Reading game will see Nigel Atkins return to his old club and they play West Brom and Stoke – on the final game of the season – at St Mary’s, so realistically you’d expect them to be safe.
Stoke City face Villa, Manchester United, QPR, Norwich, Sunderland, Tottenham and Southampton. That’s five six pointers but, again Stoke are strong at home. However, they have to beat Villa, Spurs and Man United at The Britannia, which means they still have their work cut out.
Norwich City will face Swansea, Arsenal, Reading, Stoke, Villa, West Brom and Manchester City. You can’t see them picking up too many points against the bigger sides so their fate will probably depend on how they perform in their three six-pointers. They’re my dark horses to slip right back into trouble.
Newcastle United face Fulham, Sunderland, West Brom, Liverpool, West Ham, QPR and Arsenal. That’s a very difficult run in and out of their two six-pointers, the one against Sunderland could easily seal the fate of either North East side. The Europa League could also prove a huge distraction but you’d expect them to stay up.
New Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio starts his campaign against Chelsea followed by Newcastle, Everton, Villa, Stoke, Southampton and Spurs. A lot will depend on how Di Canio rallies his team, which could go either way. But with four six-pointers approaching, Sunderland will be nervously looking over their shoulders until the final game of the season.
Wigan will welcome QPR followed by Man City, West Ham, Spurs, West Brom, Swansea, Arsenal and Villa. Again, that’s another tough run and, as well as their game in hand, there’s also the FA Cup games to fit in between. Wigan have proved to be the Houdinis of recent seasons but with two six-pointers and a cup distraction, can they really do it again?
QPR will face Wigan, Everton, Stoke, Reading, Arsenal, Newcastle and Liverpool, which shows they are still not out of it but, in between the three six-pointers, are three every difficult games, so it would appear even Harry can’t save them from the drop this year.
Reading, with respect, can possibly play with the most freedom because no-one expects them to stay up. Strangely, with games against Southampton, Liverpool, Norwich, QPR, Fulham, Man City and West Ham, they could still play a huge part in who goes down.
That leaves my beloved Villa, who begin their bid for survival against Stoke this weekend, with Fulham, Man U, Sunderland, Norwich, Chelsea and Wigan to follow. That’s four six-pointers and four games that will make or break their season. It would be a miracle if they came away from playing Man U and Chelsea with a point, so the other games are where the results have to be found.
Of those six-pointers, Sunderland are the only club who have to travel to Villa Park. With any club that would seem like a nightmare but with Villa it’s possibly a blessing in disguise.
The Villans travel to Stoke this weekend and everything will depend on how they counter-act Stoke’s physical presence. Stoke have not been the same side at home this year so a good counter-attacking style could mean a victory is not out of the question.
The game against Norwich is wide open – literally because neither side can defend, so it will probably be decided by which team can score the most goals.
And then there’s Wigan on the final game of the season. In previous years the Villa faithful have travelled to the DW Stadium with a lot of hope but following a 3-0 thrashing a Villa Park late last year that spirit has waned.
It will be easily be Villa’s biggest game of the year and looking at the league I reckon another nine points – which would mean 39 - would see us safe, mainly because our goal difference is so poor we need to be at least a point clear of our nearest rivals to stay up.
That means winning three of the six-pointers, which is going to be extremely difficult, but not impossible.
When Villa had to beat Reading and QPR recently, they did it. Again, with the greatest respect, Stoke, Sunderland, Norwich and Wigan are going to be completely different propositions, but nine points is possible.
And with so many of the bottom sides left to play to each other, I’ll be keeping the faith until the final kick of the season.
Article by James Fisher
Calling all Villa fans: Do you agree with James? Do you believe 39 points is the target for survival this season and that it is attainable for the Villans? Who do you think is going to join QPR and Reading in the Championship? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.