Former England coach Glenn Hoddle admits he's been impressed by Aston Villa this season.
On the eve of last night's defeat to West Ham United, Hoddle examined Villa's rise this campaign, which has seen them go from escaping relegation last term to now being a genuine prospect for a European place.
For Hoddle it all starts with the work of Villa in the transfer market. But also, he believes Villa's best players are now able to express themselves more thanks to being a regular in the top half of the table.
Hoddle said on his podcast, ' The Glenn Hoddle Footy Show': "I think they've recruited really well. But I think also, when you're in a relegation battle all season you're under immense pressure. Those players who went through that last season are now battle-hardened and have found some freedom to play. With less fear, it's amazing what can happen to a footballer and a team.
"Then you add the recruitment and the new players... (Ollie) Watkins has been absolutely outstanding. He really has flourished.
"They've had a settled back four and a good goalkeeper. But they also have some good offensive players. Jack Grealish is getting stronger and stronger and better and better. Dean Smith and his staff need to take a lot of credit."
Along with Grealish, Hoddle also had praise for his midfield partners Douglas Luiz and John McGinn. Scotland international McGinn has especially impressed.
Hoddle continued: "What he is, is what I call a 'balancing-off' player. He balances the team off. He puts in the hard graft, uses the ball well and sensibly. Him and Luiz in there knuckle down and keep the ball and give it to the players who are going to make the difference.
"There's a nice balance about this Villa team. They're a massive club and deserve to be in the Premier League. It's good to see them get some just rewards."
Hoddle also recalled playing against Aston Villa in the 1981 Charity Shield. Spurs met First Division champions Villa as FA Cup winners in the traditional season curtain raiser.
He said, "They were a terrific side. They went onto win the European Cup. They had a very, very good side - a very good, balanced side. Similar to what they have today.
"They had a lot of hard, grafting players who could put the yards in. Then you had a nice balance to that team with Morley, Shaw, Withe and Mortimer. And you had the other players who were willing to roll their sleeves up, win the ball and give it those who could play.
"Similar to today's team they had a balance about them."
Defeat to West Ham last night has Villa sitting in ninth position on the Premier League table.
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