Aston Villa manager Dean Smith believes his side are now in a better position to cope ahead of a tough run of league and cup fixtures.
The West Midlanders finished just above the drop zone last term to avoid relegation by the narrowest of margins. However, as they head into Friday’s clash with Manchester United, things have a very different look.
The Villans sit fifth after Monday’s 1-1 draw at Chelsea extended their unbeaten run to five games. They have already won at Leicester and Arsenal this season, having also thumped Liverpool 7-2 in October.
Smith’s men then play Tottenham and Everton after an FA Cup third round tie with Liverpool. The boss feels the tough games will be a gauge as to how far they have come.
“Well we’re hoping so, in these games last year we were still getting to understand the Premier League,” he said.
“This season we know where we’re at, and we’ve made a big improvement by going to Arsenal and winning and going to Leicester and winning, Liverpool, and getting a point at Chelsea.
“We think we can go and compete with the best in the league, so we’re excited about those opportunities, and we’ll be ready for them.”
Duo set to return
Villa are three points behind fourth-placed Everton with a game in hand as they mount a challenge for Europe. Smith is confident they can keep going due to motivation caused by competition in the squad.
“I believe I can trust them fully, because I look at the squad at the moment, one player comes out of the team and another comes in and does well,” he added.
“There’s no player who’s going to want to go out there and be under their level, because that would let the team down, and there’s a great team unity at the moment.
“They know if they do that they are not going to get back in the team, so I’ve got full trust in them.”
United are the in-form top-flight team, with seven wins and two draws in nine games. But the former Brentford chief is hoping for at least a repeat of last season’s 2-2 draw at the Theatre of Dreams.
“Manchester United is probably one of the first fixtures all the players look for, but we had a good result up there last season and we feel we’re in a better place than we were last season, but we know the talent United have got,” he continued.
Villa will not have to face United’s Edinson Cavani after his three-game ban for a social media post.