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Aston Villa Has Kept Itself Out of Relegation Danger—so Far

(Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

The halfway point of the FAWSL season is approaching, and while the players are away on international duty, coaching staffs are working on their plans for the second half of the season.

Each club has its own goals for the season, whether it is winning the league or simply avoiding relegation. For a team just promoted from the FA Women’s Championship, there are typically two objectives for their first season in the FAWSL: number one, don’t get relegated. Number two, build a team with a strong foundation—so you don’t get relegated in the years to come.

A tough challenge for any coach, but even more so for Gemma Davies, the FAWSL’s youngest manager. Aston Villa steamrolled the Championship last season with Davies at the helm, winning 13 matches and drawing one during their 14 game season, and finishing six points ahead of second-placed Sheffield United. Watching Villa dominate last season made it easy to forget how much the club once struggled, a testament to the work that Davies has done since she joined the club back in 2018.

The FAWSL is proving to be a new challenge for Davies and the team; they currently sit in 10th place with three points, having registered one win and four losses. The good news is that they are not in the relegation zone, nor are they in eleventh, just above relegation. Their one win against Brighton Hove & Albion back in early November has secured their spot above both Bristol City and Tottenham Hotspur. Furthermore, Villa have played one less game than Bristol City and two less than Tottenham, putting Villa in a position where they have the advantage.

Outside of the league, Villa have made positive strides in the Conti Cup, having topped their group after beating Durham 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw. They advanced to the knockout rounds, which will see the top eight teams compete for the cup.

The season is a marathon, not a sprint, but Villa’s upcoming four matches in the league may make or break their season. First, they host league leaders, Manchester United, and while Villa goes into the game as massive underdogs, their mentality regarding the match is vital.

Back in 2018, the same fixture occurred, with United beating Villa 12-0. Both teams were still in the Championship back then, and it was one of Davies’ first matches in charge of Aston Villa. The match was the biggest away win of the season and the highest-scoring match of the season for United.

That blowout is now considered a turning point in the recent history of Aston Villa. Davies herself said it was a “stark awakening” which shaped how she approached managing the team. Davies now has a chance to show her growth, with the same fixture two years on from that twelve-goal defeat.

After United, Villa takes on Bristol City and Tottehnham Hotspur in the league. These two matches are of critical importance given that both teams are below Villa in the table; this is an opportunity for Villa to pull further away from the relegation zone. Both their opponents are in poor form, and while it is important that Villa doesn’t get complacent, the team should go into both matches with confidence.

Villa’s fourth match in December will be against West Ham. At the time of writing, West Ham are one point ahead of Villa in the table. This is yet another opportunity for Villa to gain some more points.

Currently, West Ham have lost four of their last five, and they’ve just lost Matt Beard as head coach, who left the club by mutual consent. It remains to be seen as to whether West Ham will have hired a new permanent head coach by then, but even if they do, it takes time for a team to gel under a new manager. The Villa players will have the upper hand in large part because they know their manager’s system so well.

It’s always fascinating to see how promoted teams do in their first season in the top flight. By simply looking at the league table, it would seem like Aston Villa is massively struggling. But the Villans have a string of winnable games, and if those go their way, then Gemma Davies and her team are on their way to becoming a steady presence in the FAWSL.