CC: Aston Villa have 34 points now. I'm figuring that 37 is probably enough to stay up this year and with games remaining against Fulham, Hull City, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City; I don't see anyway that you they go down. This is the first season in a while where Villa hasn't been in a real threat of relegation. How does that feel for a change?
7500 to Holte: I think that the fanbase is of two minds; there's a segment that sees some progress being made and can take heart with the slightly better points total and wins over the top tier of teams, while there's another segment that looks at the overall state of things and sees little reason for hope. I tend to skew towards the more optimistic side, but I think there's a legitimate point to be made from either side of the divide; yes, it's nice to be all but formally clear of the relegation zone with nearly two months to play, but this is still a team with some pretty significant holes that's just a bad result or two away from yet another fight for survival. Some real progress has been made on several fronts but it hasn't been quite enough to convince anyone that it's permanent and given how tight things have been in the bottom half of the table this season it's reasonable to be concerned that the improvement that's been shown isn't something that's built to last.
CC: Speaking of 37 points Fulham would have to get some sort of result in this game to have any prayer of amassing that many. How likely do you think that is?
7500 to Holte: It's not at all outside of the realm of possibility. Aston Villa have shown that they're capable of beating any team in the Premier League-and their record and the quality of their performances against the top four would suggest that's more than just an anecdotal talking point-but they've also show themselves more than capable of being waxed by the league's worst sides. I think Villa are more than capable of coasting to safety this season, but any one game is a total crapshoot; Fulham's a significantly worse team on paper, but Villa's flaw are so clearly exploitable that a lopsided loss wouldn't be at all surprising.
CC: I actually quite liked watching Villa last year. I though Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke were very exciting and I've always been a Brad Guzan fan. Though the results are better for the club this year, some of the players have almost seemed to regress and they're are much less fun to watch. What exactly is different this year?
7500 to Holte: It's funny; the (completely defensible) narrative surrounding Villa last season was that of a team with a great deal of potential whose lack of organization and defensive talent consistently let down an explosive front line, and that narrative wasn't really all that far from the truth. But things have changed this season; Villa's been an impeccably organized side whose defense has been the savior on many occasions, while the attacking core has been largely unimpressive.
From a Villa fans perspective, that's encouraging; Christian Benteke missed and/or was injured for a decent portion of the year and teams have adjusted to Villa's preferred tactical approach, but the defense has been able to step up their game in order to make up the gap. Given that the back line was such a disaster last season, that's a welcome development; of course, the downside is that it makes the team a hell of a lot less fun to watch.
I think the majority of that is by design, and I think that the eventual goal is for the team to find a happy medium between stoic organization and free-flowing counter-attacking football. And I think there's a pretty good chance they'll get there. But for now, I feel like there's a whole lot of credit due to Paul Lambert for setting up his team to endure a pretty significant drop-off in production from Benteke, Weimann, Agbonlahor, et al while coming out ahead in the end.