After three years of playing in the Championship, Aston Villa FC is back in the Premier League! The players and coach Dean Smith are looking forward to writing the new club history in the biggest division of England. Which changes does the team have to make if they want to stay in the Premier League for a long time?
Aston Villa had a hard time in the second-tier league of England. For three years, since their unlucky 2015/2016 season when they were relegated to the Championship, they have been trying to come back to Premier League. However, there were always teams with more points which qualified instead of them. Finally, this year, Aston Villa came victorious in their comeback quest, beating their rival Derby County in a thrilling playoffs final game. The Villans returned to the top-tier competition, but this was only the first step to success: now they have to get ready to play against the heavyweights and work twice harder at the training sessions.
Aston Villa and their journey in the Championship
This year's Championship was not easy for Aston Villa. There were financial issues and complications between the owners when the club failed to meet the important deadlines to pay £4 million to HM Revenue & Customs. It was very likely that the club would have to sell their star player, Jack Grealish. In the end, due to all the concerns, the owner Tony Xia had to sell the club to Wes Edens and Nassif Safiris, the billionaire businessmen who expressed a desire to take on Aston Villa.
Until October 2018, the team's manager was Steve Bruce, but he failed to impress the fans with a stellar performance. After a rough start and 3-3 draw against Preston, which resulted in the famous incident where an angry fan threw a cabbage at Bruce, the owners finally decided to sack the manager. They took the search for a new coach seriously, and the result was hiring Dean Smith, a long-time fan of Aston Villa who was also a Brentford manager. Except that, the famous footballer John Terry came to work at Villa as Smith's assistant.
Even though the results improved at first, Aston Villa suffered the loss of form with Grealish's injury that he got in December. By the end of February, their position in the table did not look too hopeful, as they were eight points away from the playoff zone, while some other teams had played fewer games than them.
However, with Grealish's return in March and him scoring a goal in a game against Derby, things greatly improved for the team. Aston Villa won in ten respective games and managed to reach the playoffs zone. The squad qualified for the playoffs two games before the Championship ended, and had to compete against Leeds United, West Bromwich Albion and Derby County, who were also aiming for the spot in Premier League for the next season. Out of the four, only one team would be handed the opportunity to join Norwich City and Sheffield United, who have already qualified from first and second place, in the top-tier league of England.
Aston Villa playoff matches
The first round of the playoffs was against West Bromwich Albion. Aston Villa won the first leg 2-1 but lost in the second one 1-0, which led to the penalty shoot-out where Villa managed to come victorious 3-4 and secure their place in the big Wembley final.
Their ultimate challenge was Derby County, the rival for the final match. Though Aston Villa beat Derby twice this season with an aggregate score 7-0, the Rams still looked threatening, because the two teams had a common purpose of playing in a top league next year. Besides, Derby's manager is another notable English player, Frank Lampard.
The game was passionate, and Aston Villa managed to score their first goal just minutes before the break: it was the 44th minute of the match when Anwar El Ghazi sent the ball into the gate. After the break, John McGinn scored another goal for the Lions at the 59th minute. The team suffered a little scare when Martyn Waghorn from Derby scored one for the rivals nine minutes before the full-time. These last minutes of the game were impatient for Villa and uplifting for Derby fans, But Aston Villa preserved their fighter spirit and managed to keep the score intact until the very last minute of the game.
After the game, Aston Villa's manager Dean Smith made some thrilling comments on their historic win, saying that it does not feel real and the last time he gave a press-conference on Wembley was after his loss to Bristol City with the Walsall team four years ago. He said that his players are fully deserving of this victory because they proved that they can make history, as the winning run showed. He also added that it feels right that Aston Villa is in the Premier League, because of the broad fan base and their rich history.
Another exciting thing about the game was the presence of Prince William, who is a dedicated fan of Aston Villa. He was observing the match from his private space, and after the final whistle, he was seen happily celebrating the victory of his favourite team.
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What should Aston Villa do to stay in the English Premier League?
Though the Championship is not the most prestigious football competition in the world, it is very lucrative because it has some of the largest monetary prizes for the winning teams. According to the analysis, Aston Villa is expected to receive at least £170 million revenue now that they got promoted to Premier League. The prize is much bigger than the UEFA Champions League victory bonus, which is £6.6 million. If the team manages to stay in the Premier League for longer than one season, the revenue numbers can rise even higher.
This financial boost might significantly motivate the players to remain in the highest football league of England. Preserving their success will be a challenge for Aston Villa, especially regarding the sad statistics for the playoff champions – four of the latest five ones were relegated back to the Championship after one season.
When the initial euphoria from returning to the Premier League calms down a little, the club from Birmingham should think about spending their revenue wisely. Strengthening the team with more talented players might be a good strategy, but sometimes it is wise to make the investments primarily in the youth infrastructure because in the long run, it will prove beneficial for the club. Spending money on the professional football analytics is often useful as well because they can help with finding players that would be just right for the team, as well as come up with the best strategies of play style development.
Staying in the Premier League will be a hard task for Dean Smith and his highly motivated team. To excel in the first English league, you need to be strong, competitive and offer a fresh approach to the game.
The management of the club, including the chief executive Christian Purslow together with sporting director Jesus Garcia Pitarch, are not planning on repeating the same mistakes as the previous playoff winners. They are about to discuss transfer strategy with the coach and determine which players they want to keep or let go.
Some footballers play for Aston Villa on loan (Tammy Abraham, Tyrone Mings and Azel Tuanzebe), and there are also those whose contracts are about to expire, and they have to choose whether they want to sign a new one (Glenn Whelan, Albert Adomah, Alan Hutton, Tommy Elphick and Mile Jedinak). Signing the loaned players permanently would be the first step to succeeding in the next season, as they all played an essential part in Aston Villa's promotion.
Time will tell which strategy Aston Villa will choose for their first Premier League season in years and whether they will be back to their previous successes. The bosses of the club want to make it one of the best teams in the entire world, so we wish them luck on their way to their goal.
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