The culmination of Aston Villa’s eight-year reign as undisputed west midlands kings was both sudden and destructive, echoing Liverpool’s unexpected shimmy away from the Champions League places in 2009/10 and subsequent struggle to re-emerge.
From 2003/04 to 2009/10, Villa comfortably dismissed any challenge presented by second city foes Birmingham or neighbouring West Brom and Wolves. Martin O’Neill’s shock exit dizzied them in 2010/11, but they recovered to call dibs on their spot.
Things have gone horribly wrong in the last two years though. Randy Lerner seemingly judged that it wasn’t worth sustaining a high investment levels when Champions League football remained elusive and a more youth-orientated policy was implemented.
The initial results were grim: a dreary 16th place finish under Alex McLeish in 2011/12 and a joyless first 16 games for successor Paul Lambert. However, there was a considerable improvement after that, albeit only yielding 15th.
West Brom decided that Villa’s decline provided the perfect opportunity to ditch their yo-yo, reeling off 11th, 10th and eighth-place mid-table efforts under first Roy Hodgson then Steve Clarke.
Their contrasting positions last season, when West Brom wound up eight points better off in eighth, owed everything to wildly contrasting starts though. The clubs reverted to type from November 27 onwards, Villa actually pocketing eight more points.
For that reason, Villa are the more tempting option in the season match betting market involving the two teams, in which the market deems them inseparable at 10/11.
Retaining Christian Benteke is a huge boost because, while Villa have been perceived as a selling side since letting Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Stewart Downing and James Milner go, losing a star after just a year would have been a depressing development.
Friendly results should never be taken too seriously but it is intriguing that after a poor start to pre-season, drawing three games, they have won two and been held once since the prolific Belgian – 16/1 to be Premier League top scorer – penned a contract extension.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.