Even John McGinn, the least ‘follow the media training script’ Premier League footballer, isn’t too keen to talk about it. But on current trajectory, Aston Villa can only fly under the radar for so long.

A desire to remain inconspicuous isn’t really compatible with repeatedly winning important football matches, unfortunately. A highly impressive 2-1 victory over all-action Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday hoisted Unai Emery and his players above their opponents and into the top four, two points off Arsenal at the top, one behind Manchester City, and level with Liverpool. The inevitable question afterwards became – are they Champions League material?

“It’s my job and the manager’s job to keep a lid on things,” replied McGinn. “We’ve got a really important month ahead, and then after that we can maybe analyse what our ambitions are. It’s our job to just keep going, enjoy the ride and you never know.”

It’s already been quite a ride under Emery’s leadership. Only City and Arsenal have accrued more Premier League points than Villa in 2023, and they are on the cusp of qualifying for the latter stages of the Europa Conference League, a genuine chance at winning their first European trophy since 1982. Given Emery has won the Europa League four times already, and next season they might just be playing at an even higher level, this is a golden opportunity to collect continental silverware.

You know they’ll give it a proper go, as well, as Emery has never been one to massively prioritise league duty over winning trophies. As it happens, though, they are currently one of the English top-flight’s best teams, which is quite startling considering they looked like relegation fodder under Steven Gerrard just over a year ago. Emery has recruited strongly, splashing out on Pau Torres and Moussa Diaby, while snapping up a smart free transfer in Youri Tielemans. McGinn has been revitalised by his arrival, as has Ollie Watkins.

They also represent the changing face of the Premier League, in which there are no longer cast-iron guarantees that the traditional powerhouses will dine eternally at the top table. Where the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea have slumped, clubs such Villa have emerged. Re-emerged is perhaps the more appropriate term, given their proud history, but the point stands: their strength, and the strength of others like them, is making the Premier League’s ‘big six’ – Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man United, and Tottenham – an increasingly malleable concept.

With hindsight, this was always bound to happen.

While the more prominent clubs of the last 20 years have gorged on ever-inflating TV revenue, it felt somewhat glossed over that all those below them were doing so as well. Self-preservation has always been the name of the game for English football’s traditional powers, but it seems there are diminishing returns in hogging most of the broadcast cash when the so-called lesser lights are still building a level of financial muscle that permits spending £50 million on a centre-back and hiring a world-class manager.

That Villa, a second-tier club as recently as 2019, are in such a position is probably bad news for football at large, but within the Premier League bubble, it is beginning to erode the idea that a certain few, no matter how dysfunctional, will always occupy the top spots. Clubs like Man United and Chelsea are picking pretty much the worst possible moment to be as badly run as they are. Tottenham are seemingly getting their act together with Ange Postecoglou, but let’s not forget what a show they’ve made of themselves these last few years.

Arsenal have finally got it right, too, and just in time. Even in the jaded final few years of Arsene Wenger, it was pretty much an annual given that they would sneak into the Champions League at the end of another long season of calls for the manager’s head. Would they have such leeway now with Villa on the rise and Newcastle United super-charged by unlimited Saudi state wealth? The Magpies’ resurgence is a whole other topic, but they too are emblematic of a rapidly shifting landscape in the world’s richest league. What’s an extra few hundred million in revenue when everybody else is still getting obscenely rich anyway?

The established elite are probably fortunate that, despite ever-increasing resources, clubs such as Villa don’t always manage to get their act together in this way. Appointing Gerrard was a clear misstep, and such mistakes won’t always be so spectacularly corrected by hiring a manager of Emery’s calibre, but it shows that while a few bad decisions in football can land you in serious bother, a few good ones can be just as significant.

Of course, different rules apply in the Premier League. There will be no other division in the world where Emery would have considered taking over a team sliding towards the relegation places, but it demonstrates the potential for Villa and others to gatecrash the upper echelons of the league, aided and abetted by former champions blundering around from one calamity to the next.

Where those clubs do still retain an advantage is in being able to entice players away from emerging teams when the transfer window rolls around, so it will be intriguing to observe how far Emery can take Villa before the vultures start circling around his very best players. In the meantime, though, and despite their best efforts to keep a lid on the hype, the sky could well be the limit this season.