Aston Villa Defender Curtis Davies believes the Villa Park side have a better chance of pipping the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool to a Champions League berth this season than they did last term – thanks to their newly strengthened squad.
This time last year, Villa stood in third place in the Premier League, only to fall away in the second half of the campaign, eventually finishing in sixth place.
The 24 year old, who is back in training following shoulder surgery in September, exclusively told FourFourTwo.com that Villa now have the squad depth to maintain a Champions League push over a whole season.
"If you look at last season, although we had a decent squad, we didn’t have the strength in depth that we’ve got now” Davies said.
"We’ve got players like Craig Gardner and Moustapha Salifou that aren’t even getting onto the bench – then you’ve got Nicky Shorey, who’s had to go out on loan to get games."
"I’m sure a lot of people will be looking to see what the manager does in the January transfer window, but I think it’s really more a case of keeping the players we’ve got fit, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue to push for the rest of the season.”
Villa face Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon, having already enjoyed wins over Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool this season, but the defender doesn’t feel it will be the Midlands club’s record against the ‘Big Four’ alone that will define their season.
And despite rivals Tottenham having a poor record against the top sides so far this term, and Liverpool also already losing to Chelsea and Arsenal, Davies doesn’t believe Villa’s good record gives them any kind of mental advantage over their competition for a top four spot.
“I wouldn’t say it gives us the edge, if you look at Manchester City’s record – they’ve only lost twice and have also beaten Chelsea and only lost to Manchester United in the last minute, although it certainly gives you a lot of confidence to get wins at places like Anfield and Old Trafford.
“I think the key to cracking the top four is to beat the teams further down the league, the teams that you really should beat.
"Anyone can raise their game against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United, but you’ve then got to go to, say, Hull on a Tuesday night and do the same. That’s what teams that win titles do.”
The former West Bromwich Albion star knows he faces an uphill battle to get back into Martin O’Neill’s side, with rival centre backs Richard Dunne, Carlos Cuellar and James Collins all in such fine form since his last outing in late August.
Davies played in the first four matches as Villa endured a mixed start to the season, losing at home to Wigan and being knocked out of the Europa League at the first hurdle, but also winning at Anfield.
Since then Villa have gone from strength to strength, much to Davies’ evident frustration.
“I think to be honest it probably is [frustrating], because you know that when you’re fit again it’ll be harder to get back into the team!
"Don’t get me wrong, I’m obviously delighted that we’re doing well and that we’re currently up there in the top four, but on a personal level, I’m coming back now and I’ll be fourth or even fifth choice at centre-back”
Davies was speaking ahead of a specially arranged party for underprivileged children at Birmingham Town Hall.
Fifty local children aged five to 16 were invited to the event, organised with the help of Birmingham City Council, and Davies told FourFourTwo.com why he was so willing to get involved.
“I was fortunate enough when growing up to have my family around me during this magical time of year, but the majority of children who we’ve invited to the party don’t even have that.
"I am determined to help put a smile on their faces and give them all a Christmas they’ll never forget.
“With the credit crunch hitting families so hard, particularly at Christmas, we’ve come up with the idea of inviting kids between five and fifteen along for a day of activities: playing a few games, having a little disco and getting a few gifts, and generally take the burden off of the parents a little bit.”
With each Premier League side facing two matches in the space of three days straight after Christmas, top flight players won’t be afforded too much free time over the holiday period – however Davies doesn’t believe they should feel at all sorry for themselves.
“Obviously it’s harder for the players that have got kids and have to leave them behind and go to training or travel to a match.
"But you’ve got to get things into perspective - you’d rather be doing what we do and be able to provide for your kids in the way we’re fortunate enough to be able to, than be a position where you can’t.”