After stunning Liverpool evisceration, what’s the ceiling for Aston Villa?

Newcomer Ollie Watkins continued his goal-scoring ways with a shocking hat trick against Liverpool on Sunday.

Don’t look now, but one of the biggest clubs in England is back.

Aston Villa may have departed the Premier League like a disgraced politician, plummeting into the depths of the English football system as horrified fans watched and booed incredulously back in 2016, but all of that negativity is forgotten now.

The Villains returned triumphantly last season, and after spending nearly 95 percent of the year in the relegation zone, pulled off a dramatic escape to survive. Now, it looks like Villa fans can grab a Snickers– they might not be going anywhere for a while.

Aston Villa destroyed defending champion Liverpool, 7-2, in one of the most remarkable results in Premier League history on Sunday. It was a thoroughly dominating and embarrassing performance for the Reds, but it might have said more about Villa than it did about the 2019 Champions League winners.

Villa are 3-0-0 on the season, sitting in second place in the league table, and look like a team that can legitimately —  I can’t believe I’m writing this — contend for a Top 10 finish, maybe even more.

Aston Villa has bona-fide up-and-coming stars in Jack Grealish and John McGinn, a top-level midfielder in Ross Barkley, who is on loan from Chelsea, and a polished, automatic finisher in Ollie Watkins, who lit up the Championship for a league-best-tying 26 goals and nearly lifted Brentford F.C. to the top flight for the first time in its 131-year history.

Some balked when Villa spent 33 million pounds to acquire Watkins during the offseason, but those people clearly didn’t watch him lay waste to Championship defenders last year. After his jaw-dropping hat trick on Sunday, Watkins is looking like a steal, and it’s no longer just kind of surprising that no bigger clubs seriously pursued him.

The core of this team — Grealish, McGinn, Barkley, Watkins, and defender Tyrone Mings — are all between the ages of 25 and 27, and clearly entering their primes. Barkley, who earned plenty of playing time in a young Chelsea squad last season, sliced and diced Liverpool on Sunday. The Reds could not keep up with his clever runs all day long, and it was almost a disappointment that he only scored once. All of these guys could end up playing for their national teams (Grealish, McGinn, Barkley and Mings already do), and that says a hell of a lot about where Aston Villa currently is as a club.

Manager Dean Smith has proven himself to be an excellent tactician, and a terrific motivator. Smith guided this squad on an unforgettable end-of-season unbeaten run to reach the Premier League in 2018-19, and calmly steered the ship as the club barely avoided relegation last season. Premier League clubs are going to rue not having beaten up on the Villains then, because they’ve become a problem now.

The 7-2 result on Sunday was stunning to say the least, and part of it was undoubtedly about Liverpool, which became the first defending top-flight champion to concede 7 goals since 1953. But it might just say more about Villa, which downed last season’s surprise team, Sheffield United, in the season opener and whacked Fulham 3-0, in Game 2. They also beat Manchester United in the final preseason game before the campaign started, a result that caused concern for United supporters but was ultimately dismissed as an aberration. Maybe not.

Grealish and McGinn are remarkable creators and certainly look like two of the best midfielders in the league. With Barkley and Watkins now in the squad, this team will score plenty of goals all season long. Mings can also be described as one of the best young defenders in the Premier League.

It would have been an off-the-wall prediction at the beginning of the season, but now there’s reason to believe that Aston Villa can finish in the top half of the table. I can’t believe we’re talking about real life and not my FIFA dynasty (where previously unknown manager Kels Dayton has remarkably led Villa to back-to-back Champions League titles).

For the first time in over a decade, Prince William, Tom Hanks, and Villa fans everywhere can smile wide. This club looks like it’s back, and it might not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Also see:

With smart signings and clever managing, Newcastle is here to stay in Premier League

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