Football: Revitalised Ross Barkley a reason Aston Villa are flying

LONDON • Aston Villa are the only team left in the Premier League with a 100 per cent record.

Last season, they spent over £100 million (S$176.4 million) on a host of transfers, but their scattergun approach nearly cost them their English top flight status, with the Villans ending the term in 17th place.

But with a full season under their belt, the squad have started to gel and allied with a raft of shrewder acquisitions this transfer window, Villa appear to be a transformed club four games into the new campaign.

Ross Barkley was deemed surplus to requirements at Chelsea so manager Dean Smith snapped him up on a season-long loan last month. Along with new boys Emiliano Martinez, Ollie Watkins and Matty Cash, the England midfielder has been a key part of Villa’s best start to a season since 1930-31.

Barkley lashed in the winner – his second goal in as many games – in added time at Leicester on Sunday to seal a 1-0 win and they now sit second in the table, a point behind leaders Everton (13) but with a game in hand.

After avoiding relegation on the final day of last season, Smith is delighted with how Barkley, like his other recruits, has improved the quality of his team.

“Ross showed why he’s a very coveted player with a finish we’ve seen him do a number of times,” said the Villa boss.

“He’s a high-calibre player. I sold him the project here and told him I’ll get him in the Euro squad (for England) and he’s going to try and help us win football games. He’s certainly done that in his first couple.”

Barkley repaid the compliments after making just 28 Premier League starts in a Chelsea shirt after arriving from Everton in 2018.

“The manager has given me the platform to play and I am excited and looking forward to every game,” said the 26-year-old.

However, Smith, who guided Villa to the League Cup final last season, insisted that he would try to keep his players’ feet on the ground despite their flying start.

“I said to the players at the start of the season we’re all about trying to make history,” he said. “We done it in my first season, winning those 10 games (in the Championship to gain promotion) and we stayed up last season. It’s important we keep our feet on the ground and stay humble.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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