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Aston Villa must look to Newcastle if they are to rediscover former glories, says Jamie Redknappp.
Last Updated: 28/05/12 9:29am
It's been one of those seasons for Aston Villa which they'll just want to see the back of. There's still a slight question over their Premier League status, but I think they'll be ok.
They've picked up a couple of crucial points at the right time, including a brilliant one at Anfield where no one would've expected them to get anything, but it's been a tough season for Alex McLeish.
They've lost a number of key first team players, including Darren Bent and Richard Dunne through injury and then, of course, they suffered another massive blow when their captain and leader Stiliyan Petrov was diagnosed with acute leukaemia.
But the results they've got in April have been vital. The last thing they would've wanted was to get dragged into a relegation scrap because it's the clubs who aren't used to those situations that find it the hardest to get out.
The fans of teams like Wigan half expect a battle around this time of the season so they're right behind the players and the atmosphere is magnificent. But Villa fans will be thinking they're too big a club to be in this predicament and that's when it becomes very tense and nervy for everyone.
The number of injuries they've had and the lack of depth of their squad has meant McLeish has been forced to field a lot of young players who lack experience at this level, but I think that's actually helped them get the fans on board a little bit more and a couple more wins should confirm their safety.
The question is where do they go from here? Two years ago they were chasing a Champions League spot but that seems a fair way off now.
Since then they seem to have spent the last two summers selling arguably their best players without ever really replacing them. Gareth Barry, James Milner, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing have all left the club with Darren Bent the only big name brought in.
There's no doubt in terms of stature that Villa are a big club because of their history and that's the way I see them, but with the squad they've currently got you have to be realistic and say they're a mid-table team right now.
It's clear after a few years of heavy investment Randy Lerner has decided to tighten things up and the emphasis now is on reducing the wage-bill and making the club profitable for the future. Although it's not what Villa fans will want to hear, I have a certain amount of sympathy for the owner.
You need more money than sense to own a football club these days and unless you have a Russian billionaire or a Middle East group backing you, it's not possible to pump in £100 million every season.
For years the richest man in each town would own the local football club, but now it's the richest men from across the world, and unless you've got one at your football club it becomes increasingly difficult to compete.
Lerner is obviously a very wealthy man, but he can't keep throwing money at something if he doesn't think it's the right thing to do. And ultimately, surely the main aim must always be about securing the future of the club. You only have to look at the debt that some others have got themselves in to realise that the prudent approach is definitely the best one sometimes.
And while it does make competing at the highest level really difficult, it's not necessarily impossible as Newcastle have proved this season.
They've managed to sell players at the top end and replace them with great quality at a fraction of the price. Every club in the Premier League, including Villa, will be looking to emulate their success in the transfer market, but it's not as easy to implement as it looks.
They've got a fantastic scouting system at Newcastle which has allowed them to find gems like Cheik Tiote, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse - all players who also have a sell-on value. But while Villa will no doubt be looking at that blueprint, it's also a chance for them to give some of their academy players a chance.
They've always produced good young players and Gary Gardner is someone who I really like the look of. I don't want to put too much pressure on him as he's still very early in his career, but he does have that Steven Gerrard look about him and an abundance of confidence.
A mixture of youth and a recruiting policy similar to Newcastle's could be the key to Villa's future, but for now they'll be concentrating on getting enough points on the board so they can build in the summer for another Premier League season.
They face a tough trip to Old Trafford on Sunday and Manchester United will not want another slip-up like Wigan, which is why I don't see Villa winning. That said, I don't see United wiping the floor with them either.
Up until Wednesday night they had been relentless in their pursuit for their 20th league title. They'd powered on in the last few months and always seemed to find a way to win, but they will be a little bit more nervous now, especially after Manchester City closed the gap to five points in pretty emphatic fashion against West Bromwich Albion.
When I think of games between these two Federicho Macheda's injury-time winner for United in 2009 always springs to mind and it could take something similar on Sunday for the champions. They haven't been firing on all cylinders in their last couple of games at Old Trafford but this is more of a blip than a crisis for me and I fully expect them to come away with all three points here.
As for Villa, they'll have one eye on their next two home games against Sunderland and Bolton and if they can pick up points in those, then they can start looking forward to next season.