Tottenham will all but secure European football next season with a win at Villa Park tomorrow, which would leave them needing a point from their final two games to guarantee a top-seven finish at Aston Villa’s expense and a place in the Europa League or Conference League.
Spurs have been above Villa since the opening day — and only a defeat by three goals or more would see that change tomorrow — but, for two-thirds of the campaign, Unai Emery’s side have been comfortably more consistent and impressive.
Since replacing Steven Gerrard with Emery in late October, Villa have won 45 points to Tottenham’s 34 and earned four more wins in the top flight.
After a 3-0 thrashing over Newcastle in April, Villa even appeared capable of gatecrashing the top four, but Emery’s side have lost a little steam, drawing with Brentford and narrowly beating Fulham before consecutive 1-0 defeats by Manchester United and Wolves.
Regardless of how they finish the campaign, the ex-Arsenal boss has done a superb job, lifting a club which had won just two of its first 12 games from relegation trouble to the brink of Europe.
The Spaniard became something of a punchline in north London, but has already gone a long way to rebuilding his reputation in English football.
As Spurs continue their own search for a new manager, Villa’s rise under Emery is a comforting reminder of just how quickly fortunes can change under a top coach.
Harry Kane reiterated this week that he believes it would not take much for Spurs to quickly return to challenging, and Villa, United and Newcastle are all recent examples of clubs transformed by the right appointments.
Conversely, Kane — who needs five goals in the final three games to match his best-ever return in the Premier League — has also warned that another bad move could quickly see Spurs slip down an ultra-competitive top flight next season.
Villa are among the ambitious and upwardly-mobile clubs who could pose a threat to the established hierarchy next season, particularly after Emery has enjoyed a pre-season and a summer transfer window to hone his squad.
Villa’s form under the former Paris Saint-Germain boss would be good enough for a top-four place as it stands, and they will be encouraged by Eddie Howe’s Newcastle, who carried their momentum from a strong second half to last season into this term and are on the verge of securing Champions League football, albeit as part of a Saudi Arabian sportswashing project.
Villa are already seeking to consolidate their progress by building a structure around Emery, and are finalising a deal for Barcelona director of football Mateu Alemany to join in a senior position.
In stark contrast, Spurs are still without a manager or director of football and will be playing catch-up with Villa and other top-flight rivals in this summer’s transfer market. Get their appointments right and Spurs can start to look up the table again; get them wrong, and Villa will be leading the clubs looming large over Spurs’s shoulders.
Acting head coach Ryan Mason, who is hoping to put himself in contention for the permanent job with a strong finish to the season, has had another week on the training ground to refine the new system he used in last weekend’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace.
Clement Lenglet is expected to be fit, despite being forced off with a shoulder problem against Palace, while Yves Bissouma is pushing for minutes after returning to the bench last weekend.