Euro talk premature – for now, says Aston Villa boss Dean Smith

Dean Smith insists it is too soon to describe Villa as top four contenders this season but admits Champions League qualification is the club’s long-term goal.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith

Villa head to Burnley tonight looking to follow up Saturday’s win over Newcastle and further strengthen their position in the top half of the Premier League.

Nine wins from 17 matches so far has put Smith’s men right in the mix with the season at the midway point, prompting former Liverpool defender-turned-pundit Jamie Carragher to this week name them among the teams he believes can gatecrash the top four in this most unpredictable of campaigns.

Yet Smith is refusing to get caught up in the hype. Asked at what stage it would be fair to call his team contenders, the boss replied: “Probably when there are five or six games to go.

“You only have to look at last season. Leicester were in the top four but played Manchester United at home on the final day and Chelsea were fighting for the position.

“We are not looking that far ahead. We are just looking to the next game and trying to get some points on the board.”

Smith’s caution has nothing to do with a lack of ambition. Carragher described this season as a “once in a generation” opportunity but the long-term focus at Villa is on becoming serious contenders for more than one campaign.

The club are set to strengthen further with the imminent arrival of midfielder Morgan Sanson from Marseille in a deal which could eventually be worth £15.5million.

“There is a bigger picture,” continued Smith. “Our owners came out with a statement at the start of the season and when they first came to the club in terms of what they are looking to build.

“It takes time but hopefully we can continue building what we believe can help us reach the heights of a top-four finish.

“It could be a special season but we are not even at the halfway point ourselves yet. There is an awful long way to go.”

Smith and Villa have good reason for not looking beyond Burnley. The Clarets might have only scored 10 goals from 18 matches so far but are one of only three teams, along with Leeds and Manchester City, to have stopped Villa netting this term. That is despite Smith’s men registering 26 shots on goal during last month’s 0-0 draw at Villa Park.

Sean Dyche’s men sit 16th in the table but head into the game on the back of arguably the shock result of the season, having last week becoming the first team since April 2017 to beat Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League.

“Sean is one of the longest-serving managers in the league and rightly so with the job he has done at Burnley,” said Smith.

“I always enjoy going head-to-head with him because I know it is going to be a tough game.

“We will both know each other very well, the fact the two matches are so close together. We know we are coming up against a top quality team.

“They are seven points clear of the relegation zone and will see this game as an opportunity to build the gap even further.”

Villa will welcome back John McGinn after the midfielder missed the win over Newcastle through suspension. Marvelous Nakamba, who performed impressively against the Magpies, will likely be the man to make way.

“Marvelous came in and was excellent, and that’s important, said Smith. “When you have good structure players can come in and they know their roles.”

Defender Kortney Hause is due to have a scan on a foot injury while striker Wesley, who has not played since suffering a serious knee injury at Turf Moor more than a year ago, is yet to rejoin full-contact training.

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