Unai Emery’s flying start to life as Aston Villa boss and where can we expect the club to finish?


Unai Emery has brought life back into Aston Villa over three months since his appointment, following a woeful start under Steven Gerrard.

Since Unai Emery’s first game in charge of Aston Villa, only Premier League leaders Arsenal and Manchester United have picked up more wins than the claret and blue side.

It has been a bright start for the Spaniard, Villa have won five league games out of eight since his arrival – including wins against top four candidates Manchester United and Tottenham.

Emery’s unique system, which often sees typically central players like John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey play out wide, has made Villa a much bigger threat in front of goal. Since the beginning of his tenure, Villa rank fifth in goals scored (14). In comparison to the opening 11 league games of the season under Steven Gerrard, the club managed to score just seven goals – only fellow West Midlands club Wolves managed fewer (five).

The increase in the goal-scoring form heavily comes down to improvement Ollie Watkins has shown since the sacking of Steven Gerrard. The striker has scored five and assisted two in his last ten starts. In the opening 12 games of the season under Gerrard, Watkins had registered just one goal.

Douglas Luiz is another player who has been contributing a lot more going forward since playing in a slightly more advanced role. The Brazilian has registered one goal and three assists in his last seven league appearances. The midfielder has begun developing a strong partnership with Boubacar Kamara, with Luiz taking a playmaker role and Kamara excelling in breaking up play.

Despite currently ranking 11th for goals conceded in the league under Emery (11), Villa fans can expect a more well-balanced side given time under the new manager. In Emery’s most recent full season with Villarreal, the Spanish club ranked fourth in La Liga for goals scored (63) and goals conceded (37), despite finishing seventh that season.

Playing out from the back has often been an issue for Villa. In their most recent match against Leicester, Kamara getting caught out in the final third allowed Maddison an easy finish for their first goal of the game. This style of play will take time for the players to master but will pay off in the long-run. The return of Diego Carlos in the coming months will no doubt be of use to Emery and this way of playing. In his most recent full season with Sevilla, the Brazilian had an impressive pass completion rate of 87.3%, ranking in the top 20% of centre-backs across Europe. His return could see the Villans conceding much fewer goals.

The club will face top scorers Manchester City at the Etihad and second top scorers Arsenal at home in their next two fixtures – both games where the defence will have a lot to prove.

Aston Villa are currently sat 11th in the table, five points off seventh – so where could we expect them to finish?

Despite being within reach of the top seven after several good results under their new manager, a charge for Europe is likely too soon for the West Midlands side.

Alex Moreno and Jhon Durán have been two smart additions to Emery’s team. The recall of Bertrand Traore also adds further depth in the attacking options. However, they have also seen several outgoings, including the club’s top scorer Danny Ings. The sale of Ings was more than likely a wise financial decision for Villa to recoup some of the money from the £25million signing.

With clubs often being reluctant to sell over the January window, it is likely Emery will look to improve his side over the summer and start looking further up the table towards the European places next season.

Despite failing to achieve a cup-run due to a shock defeat to League Two side Stevenage and a 4-2 loss to Man United, a top-half finish in the league would still be a credible achievement for Emery – a finish which the club haven’t seen for over a decade. This would set a strong foundation for him and his staff to build on and help attract more top names to the club.

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