Aston Villa legend Stiliyan Petrov has revealed he is impressed by the drastic improvement of his former club this season.
Dean Smith’s side currently sit in third in the table having racked up wins over the likes of defending champions Liverpool and Leicester City.
Their perfect start was ended in convincing style though, with a Patrick Bamford hat-trick giving Leeds United an impressive win on the road.
Petrov – who captained the club to a top six finish, an FA Cup semi-final, and a League Cup final in 2009-10 – believes Villa are in a much stronger position compared to the previous campaign, where they survived relegation on the final day of the season despite spending more than £140million in the previous summer window.
“A very positive, very exciting start [to the season],” he told TEAMtalk. “We had a 100% record – four out of four – the boys played really well.
“It was a very big win against Liverpool, so it was really exciting to watch. It was [an] end to end game and we managed to score some great goals.
“The disappointing thing was only seeing the last game of the season but I thought that Leeds were very good. They’re very well organised, they looked sharper and looked quicker and we just couldn’t adjust to that game.
“Overall, I think it’s a positive start for Villa, an exciting start for the fans and everybody associated with the club.
“I always thought that the first season coming up from the Championship was always going to be difficult. I remember talking about it before the start of the season last season and I said that the biggest achievement for Villa would be to survive because I did not think they added very good players or added enough quality with enough experience for last year.
“But the boys battled very hard and I think the manager did a great job by keeping the team up and what they’ve done this season is they’ve recruited very well. They’ve acquired a few internal changes; they’ve added some quality players – smart moves – they’ve only five players but in the right positions with the right qualities.
“I’m looking much more forward to this season than the last season,” Petrov added.
Stan backs Ollie Watkins to help Villa finish in top half
The signing of Ross Barkley has added a much-needed injection into the midfield of the team, and it was on show in their stunning 7-2 victory over Liverpool.
Barkley – on loan from Chelsea – netted his first goal for Villa while Grealish bagged a double and made a treble of assists, supplying Ollie Watkins with two of his three goals.
Watkins, who signed for a club-record fee of £28million which could rise to £32million, became the first player in history to score a perfect hat-trick against the Reds.
Petrov believes the firepower amongst the attacking trio can see them cement their first top half finish in the Premier League since 2010/11 under Gerard Houllier.
“It would have been easy because I would just have to give them the ball and that’s it, I would not have to do anything else,” he said when asked about playing alongside Grealish and Barkley.
“In a bigger picture, [Barkley] is a great addition to the club. I think he’s a very strong player, a quality player which will take the pressure off Jack Grealish as well because in the last couple of years the only hope for us has been Jack Grealish performing and Jack Grealish providing.
“Going forward is really exciting. We’ve got a very young striker who is hungry to prove himself in the Premier League – Ollie Watkins – who has started really well this season. He’s scored a couple of goals and we create enough chances for him so I’m looking forward to seeing where he is going to finish at the end of the season with how many goals.
“The top 10 would be great – a great improvement from last season and this should be the aim and with the performances from the start of the season we have had so far should be a very realistic challenge for the club.
“But looking at every result and all the results around the world it could be a very strange season but not just for the Premier League but for everywhere around the world.”
Grealish is ‘an exceptional talent’
Stan was at Bodymoor Heath to witness the rise of Grealish. The academy product – who has won two international caps for England under Gareth Southgate this year – extended his stay at Villa by signing a new five-year-deal in the summer.
The winger is in the form of his life having scored three goals and added as many assists in five league starts and Petrov expects the 25-year-old to only get better with age.
“I’ve seen Jack since he started. I’ve managed to play with him for a while and managed to coach him for a while – he’s an exceptional talent. He’s improving very nicely, and I think in the last couple of years he has matured very nicely.
“He’s learning the right elements in the game and is improving by creating and scoring more which is very important for his position, so he’s got the base of becoming really good. He is making sure that he progresses nicely and over the next couple of years we will see Jack progress more and more and develop as a better player and individual as well.”
Petrov is the co-founder of Player 4 Player, click here to check out more about the company.
By Joe Hewlett (@JoeBoxing365)