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Aston Villa: BTSport.com's Premier League 2019/20 season preview

The Villans are back in the Premier League after a three-year hiatus and Dean Smith's side look ready to re-establish themselves among the big boys.

Last season's Championship finish: 5th - promoted via the play-offs (W20 D16 L10 - F82 A61 - Pts 76)

Last season's top scorer: Tammy Abraham - 25 (26 in all competitions)

Odds to finish in the top half*: 9/2

First five fixtures: Tottenham (A), Bournemouth (H), Everton (H), Crystal Palace (A), West Ham (H)

Predicted finish (BTSport.com writers' combined prediction): 14th

Predicted finish by The Script: 15th

Transfers in: Tom Heaton - Burnley (£8m), Wesley Moraes - Club Brugge (£22m), Tyrone Mings - Bournemouth (£26.5m), Douglas Luiz - Manchester City (£15m), Matt Targett - Southampton (£14m), Ezri Konsa - Brentford (£12m), Trezeguet - Kasimpasa (£9m), Anwar El Ghazi - Lille (£8m), Bjorn Engels - Reims (£9m), Jota - Birmingham City (£4m), Kortney Hause - Wolves (£3m), Marvelous Nakamba - Club Brugge (£11m), Frederic Guilbert - Caen (£5m)

Transfers out: Tommy Elphick - Huddersfield (free), Ritchie De Laet - Royal Antwerp (free), Albert Adomah - Nottingham Forest (free), Gary Gardner - Birmingham City (undisclosed), Mile Jedinak, Ross McCormack, Mark Bunn, Micah Richards, Alan Hutton, Glenn Whelan (all released), Harvey Knibbs - Cambridge (undisclosed), Harry McKirdy - Carlisle (free), Corey Blackett-Taylor - Tranmere (free), Matija Sarkic - Livingston (loan), Jordan Lyden - Swindon (free), Mitchell Clark - Leicester (free), Andre Green - Preston (loan), James Bree - Luton (loan), Scott Hogan - Stoke (loan), Rushian Hepburn-Murphy - Tranmere (loan)

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Reasons to be optimistic

Aston Villa fans are in buoyant mood after ending their three-year exile from the Premier League with promotion via the Championship play-offs.

A team coached by a boyhood Villa supporter and captained by a boyhood Villa fan has led them back to the promised land. The fans can finally identify with the team once more after a trying spell outside the top flight. The Villans, it seems, are ready to ride that wave of optimism right into their opening game of the season at Tottenham.

Of the three newly-promoted sides, Villa have readied themselves most thoroughly. An aging defence has been completely revamped with Matt Targett, Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa, Kortney Hause and Bjorn Engels all arriving to supplement Dean Smith’s backline. England international Tom Heaton is an instant upgrade between the sticks.

In James Chester, Ahmed Elmohamady and Neil Taylor they already boast Premier League experience. Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn are midfielders who thrived in the Championship and are ready to make the step up. Captain Jack Grealish wouldn’t look out of place playing for a team in the top six.

Villa have moved swiftly to replace the departed Tammy Abraham’s goals with the purchase of Brazilian forward Wesley Moraes for a club-record £22 million. In total, owners Nassef Sawiris and Tony Xia have splashed out £120m this summer on 11 new arrivals that also include midfielder Douglas Luiz from Manchester City, goalkeeper Heaton from Premier League rivals Burnley and Egyptian winger Trezeguet.

True to the club motto, Villa are ‘prepared’ for the top flight and there’s a growing feeling that they can thrive, not just survive, in the Premier League.

Reasons to be fearful ​

Abraham’s return to parent club Chelsea means 25 Championship goals have been removed from Villa’s team. Wesley, who has only played senior football in Slovakia and Belgium, will need to make the adjustment from Club Brugge to the Premier League quickly to replace them.

Villa supporters concerned that the 22-year-old Brazilian is limping next season will be relieved to know he’s not injured - like a modern-day Garrincha, it’s just down to him having one leg three centimetres shorter than the other.

After a summer of huge turnover and big spending, Villa must also be wary of the mistakes made by last season’s Championship play-off winners Fulham. The Cottagers gutted their squad 12 months ago and splashed out £100m on a set of glamorous new arrivals with little Premier League experience. They went straight back down with a whimper.

Villa’s business looks to have the direction lacking in Fulham’s but with 14 senior players leaving the club, a summer of upheaval means it will surely take time for the squad to settle. The side that remains is unrecognisable from the one that suffered relegation four years ago and short on Premier League experience in the starting XI.

When results aren’t going well on the pitch, Villa Park can occasionally be an unpleasant place to play. Sections of the support turned on the team during the disastrous 2015/16 season. “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” could be heard regularly as Remi Garde’s dysfunctional side sunk without a trace. Smith’s current vintage are far more popular but anticipation is high and fans expect the team to hit the ground running.

The string of summer signings and overall stature of the club means most supporters would consider 17th a disappointment. But Villa must ensure they can walk before they try to run. The history books show that of the last ten teams promoted via the play-offs, six have been relegated.

Vila will need to be well clear of the relegation zone by April when they face Liverpool, Manchester United, Everton and Arsenal in their final six matches of the season.

Key man: Jack Grealish

Grealish is an idol at Villa Park. A boyhood Villa supporter, he joined the club aged six, progressing through the academy before leading them back to the Premier League as captain last season.

Already a legend to the Villa fans, Grealish ascended to deity status in March. First he scored a stunning volley in a win over Derby on his return from injury. The weekend after that, he picked himself up from a sickening on-pitch attack by a Birmingham fan to net the winner against Villa’s arch-rivals.

But aside from being the hero of the Holte End, the midfielder is undoubtedly Villa’s best player. At 23 years old, he was almost certain to leave for the Premier League if they hadn’t won promotion.

Grealish is an elegant footballer who glides past defenders before delivering pinpoint passes to set up his team-mates. He also drew 4.6 fouls per game in the Championship, making him the most fouled player in the country. His ability to win free-kicks in dangerous situations time and time again could prove an invaluable asset for Villa, especially with space at more of a premium in the Premier League than ever before.

Three years on and three years wiser from his last taste of the top flight, Grealish is primed to thrive in the big time.

The manager: Dean Smith

It’s hard to overstate what a remarkable job the ‘ginger Mourinho’ has done since succeeding Steve Bruce as manager on 10 October 2018 with the club 14th in the Championship.

Smith arrived from Brentford with a reputation for playing exciting, attacking football and set about implementing that style alongside his assistant John Terry. Villa played on the front foot, pressing the opposition into mistakes and using a high line to prepare themselves for a quick transition.

It encouraged McGinn, Grealish, El Ghazi and Hourihane to bomb on in support of Abraham, resulting in the midfield quartet weighing in with 28 Championship goals.

After negotiating a tough period of three wins in 16 while Grealish was injured, the club embarked on a ten-match winning run in March to secure fifth place. In the play-off final, Smith’s side produced a mature performance to see off Frank Lampard’s Derby and clamber back into the Premier League.

As the confetti rained down, Smith then gave a heart-breaking post-match interview in which he discussed his Villa-supporting father Ron.

“Unfortunately, because of his dementia he doesn’t know I’m the head coach,” he admitted. “That’s probably the tough part.”

In Smith, Villa fans have a coach they can truly believe in.

Fans' view - Sean King - London Lions

"We’ve sold 30,000 season tickets already. There’s a lot of confidence building and there’s real belief growing among Villa fans.

"The coaching staff have the buy-in of the players. In Suso we’ve got a great sporting director and he’s backed by owners with deep pockets. It feels like we are getting the right blend in our squad.

"Dean Smith is getting the very best out of the players. Even when we had some key injuries last season he came through it and got us playing football on the front foot by letting the shackles off. The fact that he’s a Villa fan and understands the club is so important too.

"Obviously Grealish will be massive because he can cut teams open and those flair players are so crucial in the Premier League to create chances. Also there’s a sense that he’s got to step up now he’s back, there’s no doubt that since he’s been made captain we rely on him heavily.

"There will always be a level of expectation at Villa because we are a big club but the target has to be survival and to consolidate. I feel confident that we can do that and we’ve got some winnable games early on.

"That being said, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if we were to finish top half. There’s no reason why we can’t replicate what Wolves did last season with some investment."

*All odds correct with bet365 at time of writing

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