It’s only four games old (or just 3 if you discount the League Cup) and already there are signs that Villa are not the whipping boys of last season. In fact, it seems that we might be one of the teams to beat outside of the top 6.

Some promising performances from the team as a whole plus some notable individual performances mean that we are no pushovers.

How we’ve fared so far

Generally we’ve played well throughout with good passing movements and direct, pacey play. I think we’ve defended well but also had a lot of luck at times. Luna and Okore seem better than the players they’ve replaced, although Luna still needs to improve as a defender – his attacking prowess seems beneficial to the team.

Attacking-wise we are still not pressuring defences enough in the box. Against Liverpool we didn’t put Toure under pressure for about 50 minutes.

We also have a habit of not taking risks with the ball around the box in order to keep possession. This needs to change if we are to score goals and take control of games. No matter how stats are used, football is not all about possession – it’s what you do with the ball that matters.

We’ve sat back a lot against teams and they haven’t been able to do anything with the mountain of possession they’ve had, so I’m not overly worried as some fans might be. Let’s look at some of the games briefly.

Arsenal: This was a game I always fancied we win. Not because Arsenal are a poor team, just because I think we would come out of the blocks and Arsenal wouldn’t.

The result was fair, despite the dodgy penalty decision and many Arsenal fans had no qualms about the Villa or ref performance, even if some used the ref as an excuse for Arsenal’s woeful defensive play.

Chelsea: It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to realise that we were truly robbed to not take anything from the game. A sending off decision, followed by an offside decision for the player who should’ve been sent off, plus a controversial red card (was he pulled by a Villa player and deserved a free kick or did he misjudge and handle in the box?) meant that the officials took away a certain point.

Liverpool: Both Liverpool and Villa were poor in the first half, but Liverpool dominated without creating anything except for another moment of magic from in-form Sturridge. Sturridge – in my eyes – is a class player who has carried Liverpool so far this season, along with Mignolet.

I’ve rated Mignolet for a while and am not surprised he’s been at the centre of things as much as Sturridge – without the praise – at the other end. Maybe Liverpool deserved the victory because we couldn’t create many goal scoring opportunities, but we bossed the second half and any Liverpool fan with any sense will be relieved that they managed to take three points from the match.

Rotherham: Despite the two lucky goal scoring opportunities that they gave us and our average first half performance we dominated. After 65 minutes I was convinced we’d score 5 and I think substitutions and a foot-off-the-gas mentality are the only reasons we didn’t score more.

But we did a good job against a lower league team and banished demons from last season. It’ll take a good team to knock us out this season and Spurs might not even be that side. We’ll see when the time comes.

Star performers and must do betters

Already it’s obvious who has jumped out of the blocks and who needs a little more time to bed in.

Star performers: Delph, Gabby, El Ahmadi, Okore and Guzan.

Fabian Delph is – to use an obvious cliché – like a new signing. I am dumbfounded to explain how he has become such an integral player for us. I thought he was good last season but I didn’t expect him to up his game like he has. Expect an England call up this season (well, if he joins a “top 7” club).

Gabby is having a great season so far and El Ahmadi has been so quietly going about his business holding together the midfield that we didn’t notice until he was left out against Liverpool. Okore has settled in well and Guzan has continued his excellent form. But when is he going to get the clean sheet he deserves?

Must do better: Benteke, Lowton, Vlaar and Weimann.

Benteke you say? Yes. Two penalties and a class (league) goal aside, he has been a shadow of his former self. He will still score plenty of goals, but his passing has been woeful, he has played the victim too often (which is why the referee didn’t correctly punish Ivanovic’s elbow), and he is becoming easily angry with his teammates despite being libellous with the ball at times.

Lowton hasn’t lived up to his form of last season, but its early days and I think he will reach those heights again. Ron Vlaar – for all of his leadership and organisation – just seems too rash when we need it. Check out the Arsenal and Liverpool goals for evidence.

Weimann can run and run all day, but if he doesn’t begin to pass better than he has been then he will lose his place. I, for one, would prefer to have him in the side because when on-form he can cause problems for any defence.

Who’s up next?

The rest of the month sees the visit of Newcastle and Manchester City in the league, plus a visit to Norwich and the League Cup tie at home to Spurs nestled in between. Our first game in October is a visit to the KC Stadium to play newly-promoted Hull.

Newcastle should be a routine win. I’ve not watched them in detail, but from what I have seen they have looked poor and I think they are going to be where we were last season.

We are more than capable of getting a win at Norwich, but they have made some good summer signings and have a decent manager in place meaning that I wouldn’t be disappointed with taking a point away from East Anglia.

I would, however, expect us to take 3 points from Hull, but I think City might be too difficult for us no matter how well we play. With our defence and their attacking quality I think we are going to struggle to pick up any points.

As for Spurs, the Cup is an unwelcome distraction for them with a European campaign – although you could say the Europa League is the unwelcome distraction. Either way they need to rotate this season and that buys us an opportunity against a very good side. I’m not going to call it, but I think it’ll be an excellent game of football.

So, my prediction is seven to nine points from 12. I honestly think that anything less than seven would not be good enough if we want to push on. Our performances deserver more points, although there is much room for improvement still.

Summary

We’ve been playing well for 75 minutes of every game, but we need to sharpen up in those opening fifteen minutes if we want to do well. Overall we’ve played some very attractive passing football but have been wasteful on the cusp of the opposition box.

Early goals are costing us right now, but we have the capability to pull games back. The never-say-die attitude and positive belief is a world away from ten months ago and the potential to have a good season is clearly there to see.