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If one were to put together a Big Six of the English game that encompassed more than just the last decade and change of balance sheets then Aston Villa might feel they have as good a case as almost anyone to be on it. The biggest club in the Second City, Villa have a bulging trophy cabinet and, while much of it might have been assembled in the mustachioed days of William McGregor and George Ramsay, they are in the sextet of English clubs to have lifted the European Cup.

This season Unai Emery has delivered the sort of results that could yet earn him a place in Villa's illustrious history. Big Six or not, they are almost certain to end this season in the Premier League's top six. Indeed Opta gives them a 62 percent chance of a top-four finish that would guarantee them Champions League qualification. Beat Tottenham at Villa Park on Sunday and they will be overwhelming favorites to return to a competition they last played in as its holders back in 1982-83.

Aside from the prestige that it brings, Champions League football would constitute a welcome boon for the club's finances, all the more so given that the new format will guarantee them a further two games and an almost certainty of four sold-out nights at Villa Park. Add that to the minimum reward just for reaching the competition proper -- $17.1 million in the 2021-22 season for instance -- and there is as much for Villa's CFO to celebrate as their head coach.

The rewards promise to be significant for the team that comes through the field in a year where Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea are all rather down on where they might otherwise expect to be. Going off their most recent set of accounts, that big money bounty might well be needed by Villa.

On Monday the club announced that the year up to May 31, 2023, had seen them make a $152 million loss. Wage costs had rocketed by over 40 percent, eating up all the new revenue and then some from a season where they finished seventh and made improvements on gate receipts, sponsorships and commercial activity. Not all of that was from playing staff with a nine percent increase in overall employees. A great deal of the upswing in salary will have come from players and that will only grow with a further $81 million invested in the squad during this financial year, where Moussa Diaby and Pau Torres are the most notable acquisitions.

Villa say that their loss, a year after a profit of just under $400,000, is "in line with the strategic business plan" and crucially they insist they remain compliant with the Premier League's Profit and Sustainability Rules (PSR), which limit clubs to losses of $133 million over a rolling three year period. Clubs are able to include exceptions in those calculations that include investment in the women's game, community work and infrastructure, all of which were trumpeted in Villa's press release announcing their financial results.

Since the day they returned to the Premier League in 2019, Villa have determined to act like the big club they are. In that time their net expenditure has been the sixth highest in the Premier League, per Transfermarkt. That has afforded them a squad that can dream bigger than just retaining their top-flight status on a yearly basis, the sort of soul-sapping existence their supporters endured in the dog days of Randy Learner's stewardship. Their current owners, Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens, have grand plans for their club.

To enact them now that PSR has proven itself to have teeth is an almighty challenge. In their attempts to bridge the gap to the Big Six, Villa have given themselves a significant wage bill but they still lack some of the punch of those above them. Arsenal's accounts for the same period show a wage bill of just under $300 million. That is a fair distance ahead of Villa's $247.5 million anyway but the stark difference between these two clubs is only made apparent when comparing their revenue. Arsenal's came in at nearly $600 million, Villa's less than half of that at $277.5 million.

Their opponents on Sunday are yet to publish their numbers for the 2022-23 season but Deloitte estimates they are the biggest earner of London's three leading clubs. It is not just that their rivals are running substantially higher wage bills than Villa, it is that they can easily afford it. Even a year of Champions League money does not close the gaps created by 60,000-seater stadiums in the capital and a decade of brand-building just as the Premier League has gone truly global.

Can Villa close that gap in the short term? Only to an extent. They are expected to soon formalize a multi-year kit deal with Adidas, believed to be worth more than $10 million a year. The big revenue driver would be to increase the capacity, currently, just over 42,000, of the grand old Villa Park but initial plans to do so are being re-evaluated even with an international tournament on the horizon.

"The club are delighted that Villa Park has been confirmed as a host venue for Euro 2028 and as such we have continued to invest in our infrastructure, with capital investment almost doubling at $17.1 million ($9.1 million last year)," said the club. "[While] we continue to seek opportunities to increase the capacity of the stadium, we recognize that this must be done in tandem with improvements to the local transport network. We continue to work with local authorities to find appropriate solutions that will allow fans safe, efficient and affordable access to and from games." 

Certainly, those who have attempted to make a swift escape from Witton station after a thrilling night game at Villa Park will attest that another 10,000 visitors to the area would not make for a pleasant post-match experience.

Several sources in the game believe that the best way to make the money add up next summer might just be through sales. The departure of Jacob Ramsey has been mooted as has Douglas Luiz, though Arsenal have not reignited their interest since three bids were rejected on deadline day in September 2022. For now, Emery looks to have a squad with the depth to survive a big name or two going but the likes of Leicester and lately Brighton have proven that even the best recruitment departments can't keep pulling rabbits from hats.

Ultimately this financial outlook serves to emphasise how well Villa have done to position themselves for a push on fourth. Even after such sizeable expenditure, they are a long way back in the off-pitch race with Tottenham et al. On it, they look more than a match. By most metrics, Emery's side are the fourth-best in England. Fourth in expected goals, fourth in expected goal difference, fourth when penalties are stripped from the equation, fourth for expected points. Tottenham could win at Villa Park on Sunday afternoon and it would still be the Villains with the most convincing case to lock down the last remaining Champions League spot.

They might win the battle this year but with one hand behind their back, it is going to be an uphill fight for Villa to maintain the position they have fought so hard for.