Could Aston Villa win the league?
A year ago, a response to this seemingly daft question may have been: ‘There’s as much chance of Aston Villa winning the league as there is Manchester City signing Kaka for £100m’. But football moves fast.
Let’s look at this rationally. Whether Arsene Wenger actually believes it or not, he says his Arsenal side are still in the title race. So with Aston Villa three points ahead of the Gunners in fourth place and three behind the leaders, they are surely in the hunt too.
It wouldn’t be the first time a team has surprised everyone and gone all the way. Just look at Blackburn’s Premier League title in 1994. Five seasons earlier they were struggling in the old second division.
Martin O’Neill has transformed Villa into a force to be reckoned with, and now with Manchester City determined to buy their way to glory, predicting who will finish fourth next year is about as easy as explaining the modern-day offside rule to your grandmother.
And with all eyes firmly set on Anfield tonight for the Merseyside derby, the fact that no one is even considering Villa as title challengers works in their favour. There is no pressure for them to finish in the top four, let alone be in the title race.
Villa’s astonishing recent run of five wins from their last six games, and indeed their form all season, has sent out an emphatic statement of intent. Whether O’Neill’s side are title contenders or not, Arsenal are looking nervously over their shoulder at fourth place. What we now know as the big four could change completely in the next few seasons.
Recently, a Sky Sports journalist asked Martin O’Neill whether he thought his side could challenge for the title this year. He replied with a smile: “You haven’t been drinking, have you?”
But as the season progresses – and Villa extend their run – it could be O’Neill with the glass, sipping champagne on May 24th. Perhaps it’s not such a daft question after all.