Over the course of five days Villa swept aside reining Conference League champions West Ham and their semifinal opponent AZ Alkmaar, each by a 4-1 scoreline. I was somehow suddenly a bundle of nerves after AZ pulled one back, so the ghosts of Villa past certainly haven’t left me.

But the performances have been real, and perhaps last night sent the sort of signal the 3-0 dismissal of Newcastle did down the stretch last season. Villa away in Europe, playing out from the back and through a good team. Villa taking their chances and keeping their foot on the gas. Villa playing smart, controlled, and patient football. Villa making better decisions (for the most part).

While it’s tempting to focus on ‘tactical genius’ and monomaniacal focus, the more important element to me is that Emery’s been able to translate his philosophy into players’ performances. He’s made them better. It might be more accurate to say he’s unlocked their potential, given them the ideas, roles, and structure to progress. John McGinn and Douglas Luiz certainly come to mind.

Thursday night in Alkmaar, we saw yet another example: Youri Tielemans stepping up and delivering the kind of performance we’d begun to think he wouldn’t. Leon Bailey had a big night, too, but Youri was the disgruntled one. And instead of continuing to whinge, he said something more tempered then went out and did the real talking on the pitch.

Post-match, Emery was talking about being patient, helping Tielemans fit into the philosophy and structure. And it seemed to click before our eyes. Playing in that fluid, central-to-right position, he was almost majestic at times. And he ran his socks off. Easily his best performance in a Villa shirt.

Leon, of course, netted again and saw his parried shot tucked away by Ollie, who was alertly sprinting into exactly the right spot. But Leon was also playing smarter football…attempting fewer take-ons, laying it off. Seemed to be playing more freely within the system. The decision that stood out for me was him refusing to follow a runner on the touchline. You could see him almost give in to his instincts and then just pull up to avoiding playing everyone else onside.

It didn’t hurt that Villa’s play and his decisions were putting him in the kinds of spaces he needs to run into. I’ve long been a detractor, mainly because he’s seemed to be playing under self-imposed pressure, trying to do too much, and consequently displaying a lot of poor first touches and muddled feet. “Where moves go to die,” is what I’ve said. Emery’s shown faith, whether of necessity or because of what we don’t see on the training ground, and if he can get Leon to finally come good, that would be a big win-win. He seems a genuinely likable person, and he has persisted, hasn’t groused, just kept trying. I’d be quite pleased to be wrong about him.

On the flipside, we saw a spell where Villa lost control after conceding. Carlos seemed unsettled, Villa weren’t making good decisions or passes under the intense pressure of an opponent trying to claw something back with more fresh legs on the pitch. It all got very scrappy and Villa weren’t responding well. They kept on looking like the authors of their own demise.

But they managed to get through it, managed to keep Pavlidas relatively quiet and goalless. He was frustration incarnate, which is always a lovely sight.

And apart from that spell of the wobbles, Carlos and Lenglet played well. I liked the way Emery said it wasn’t about resting Konsa and Torres, but explicitly about needing these players to be able to step into the system. Maybe a bit of semantics, but the emphasis, like with Tielemans, was them being able to step in and play in the structure. They did.

Emery started a strong side, but left Diaby and Zaniolo on the bench. Gave the opportunities to Youri and Leon, Diego and Clement. He’s basically putting them through training in European competition when many wouldn’t take the risk. On the night, it certainly paid off.

Emery’s also talked about consistency, and of course that’s the real trick over a season. They’ll have to do it again against AZ in a fortnight, then one hopes they’ll find a way to knuckle down and give themselves an easier go against Legia and Mostar. They’ll have to do it against Luton, too.

Naturally, Villa won’t score four on five shots every week. Naturally there’ll be bad luck, crossbars, posts and world-class saves. Naturally a couple of those mental errors will be punished (looking at you, Bouba).

But I think we know now that Emery’s the real deal beyond tactics and focus. That’s what I saw Thursday in Youri and Leon.

Over to you.

Comments 45

  1. The pleasing thing for me John was the 4 replacements, Bailey, Tielemans, Carlos and Lenglet all dropped in seamlessly. As though nothing had changed. It’s what Unai has been trying to achieve.

  2. Agree with comments

    I’m just enjoying it while it lasts until RM/Barca take Unai. Never thought I’d see this as a Villa fan

    40 more or less bad years. It has been worth it.

  3. I’ll take it…Lot of bodies to work through, hard to find Zaniolo or Diaby in space to run into.

    Some of the more clever little ideas, flicks, etc., not coming off, which is where Luton are getting their countering opportunities.

    Really would’ve like that early Zaniolo effort to find the top corner. He needs that goal. Diaby would probably like one, too.

  4. What I can say about Luton is that they are very athletic…did a good job sticking with men in compressed areas, and were generally well organized.

    Lovely adjustment from Emery seeing the middle was so clogged and overloading the right by swapping Bailey for Zaniolo. Paid off immediately.

  5. The Villa juggernaut rolls on. Thought the score line flattered Luton as we might have scored twice as many. Great to see a goal from Moussa at VP. Also an assist. But a shame Zaniolo missed his big chance.

  6. I’m pissed off that we couldn’t keep a clean sheet. And if I’m feeling like that, it’s safe to assume Konsa and Emi are rabid about it. The only way the Hatters were going to score was if something comical happened. It did. Think Unai will be hauling them over the coals tomorrow.

  7. The half time changes by Unai did the trick. He demonstrated once more how a master works. It has made my week complete. Time to sink an ale or two.

  8. Bailey looks a different player. Full of running. His passing with both feet has improved. Would like to see Tielemans get 25 mins. His passing and vision is great.

    Maybe Dendoncker and Traore came on too late and couldn’t get up to the pace of the game, but thought they were poor. Dendoncker daydreaming again at the edge of his box. He hasn’t learned from the FA Cup loss. I’d let him go in Jan as we have Tielemans and Tim

    As much as I like Moreano, Digne is probably in our top 5 most consistent players. He has improved soooo much

    Forest next at City Ground. I’m sure they’ll park the bus and play counter attack. They’re a level above Luton, so tough match

  9. I saw this on another site after today’s game:

    “As much as I like Watkins, he’s not a 20 plus Premier goal man.”

    We’ve had our best start to the season for decades, no team has scored more goals than us, and yet some fans are still compelled to look for something negative to say.

    I know. . some people genuinely can’t help themselves, so it can be dismissed as the involuntary outpouring of a doom-monger’s keyboard, but it does raise some thoughts.

    Firstly, there’s the random, 20 goal a season target :
    A tiny tiny number of players have managed to hit this arbitary target consistently, and in fact only 6 players have achieved the feat 4 times in the whole history of the Premier league Haaland will probably join them but that’s the sort of player who manages to do it.

    Do you ‘need’ a 20 goal a season scorer to succeed? Kane was one of that tiny group that achieved multiple 20 goal seasons, but are Spurs missing him?

    The real gems are those who score AND create goals, but that group is even tinier. Only 5 players since the start of the premier league have ever achieved 20 goals and assists . . . and that includes Cup games too.

    These goal tallies include penalties too of course, which would typically add 5 or 6 goals to the league tally, so with Watkins not taking them, he’d need around 15 open play goals to hit the equivalent of the 20 goals mark.

    Watkins is currently well on target to hit the arbitrary goal target (stripping out 5 penalties) and is also currently on target to come close to the 20 assists mark too.

    Anyway. . . I know I shouldn’t have risen to it, but it just bemused me that a football fan is ‘still’ unable to see what Ollie brings to the team.

    Thank goodness he’s had a succession of managers who DO appreciate what he does!

  10. Well RObB0, I was at the game yesterday and only growled and swore twice. Once when the clean sheet went tits up and once when Dendoncks fell asleep and almost gifted them another goal.

    We never got out of 2nd gear, but that was fine as we’d only played a game 3 days earlier. Even then, the final result might have been much worse for the opposition. Think they were delighted to escape without severe damage to their goal difference column.

    Any of our strikers don’t have to score. When they make assists, it’s as good as a goal from them. Five home games, 20 goals. Take a bow Compass, coaching staff and players. This humble fan is combusting with delight.

  11. Just had to post a R.I.P message for our very own Charlie Aitken, much more than a legend. Over 600 games for the club played for more managers than I can remember. Sneaked into Villa Park when I was 8 years old to watch some training in the Vic Crowe days. Charlie and Willie Anderson were awesome. Talked to us for what seemed forever back then and explained some of the exercises and stretches and what they were for. Brilliant man, recognized me sitting on the front wall of the Holte End and winked at me!!! Been a lifer due to him and Willie taking that time to talk to us.

  12. r0bb0,

    Very well said. Me, I was just thinking about how the underlying Villa fan mentality has to be that our position is a bit precarious..that it’s too good to be true, can’t last, we’ll be found out, the bubble will soon be burst. Which may all be true.

    Which in turn probs has a little bit to do with the tendency (this season) to need something/someone to pick on even when it’s going so well. Was seeing it applied to Zaniolo, as well.

    But Ollie, it’s been there for a while. Grounded fans will moan the misses, cheer the goals, and see everything he brings. The folks who need to put their anxieties, fears, angers onto others, well, they often as not pick on Watkins.

    You raise exactly the right point, though. It’s a silly, mythical kind of mark that understates the importance of goals coming from everywhere. Last season we scored 51. Asking Ollie, one player, to come up with 40% of that would point to some issues.

    Diaby, Bailey, McGinn, Zaniolo, Jacob, Dougie, Youri…We’re looking for goals from them, too, and getting them (well, not Nicolo yet, but it’s coming).

    That’s a much harder team to stop.

    So yeah, I’d love him to convert every chance and half-chance. But that just ain’t the way it works.

  13. MD,

    Yeah, Bailey…seems like some things are starting to sink in and perhaps he’s finally letting the game come to him. I’m sure it had to do with the fee, the hoopla, expectations, all of it, and then the injury, but he’s seemed too rushed in his mind, his feet and his head not in sync, always trying to do too much.

    Now, looks like he’s getting past that, just slotting in to the role, and starting to take his chances. He doesn’t have to be Sako to us. Guessing there’s been some good man management and advice from the staff.

    Digne has come up huge for us…So many minutes, lots of hard knocks, and keeps going the length of the pitch.

    I’m guessing Unai will go back to rotating him and Moreno (and in the same games) so they can both give 100% for 60mins or so. It seems like Moreno will need to be reintroduced carefully, as well.

  14. Plug,

    I was gutted by the OG…Was just having that thought about the clean sheet being in danger when it happened. But on replay, Ezri just got too much on the little header back to Emi, and Emi had come off his line just a bit.

    Unfortunate, and Emi was fuming at the farce of it all, but I’m going to choose to see it as the inevitable bad luck/error occurring when it could do no harm. Unlike Kamara being caught dwelling against AZ. That could’ve made for a much different match, being punished there.

  15. R0bb0,

    Don’t understand how anyone could be critical of Ollie. I think he’d start for any EPL team except Man C and possibly Liverpool and Toon. I’m sure Man U and Chelsea would chop their arms off to get him

    Ramsey injury is so disappointing. Also Louie Barry at Stockport when he was flying it.

    Lots of speculation that too many games are leading to more long term injuries

  16. Anyone fancy a bit of conspiracy? In separate snippets of unconnected clickbait, our Bertie might be made available for transfer in January and Everton are going to try to permanently sign Jack Harrison who is currently on loan from Leeds. Anyone see what I’m trying to do?

    I know, it’s still a long way to Sunday and there’s no Thursday game.

  17. Dunno that we need another winger 656 with Bailey hitting a bit of form and our wing backs performing well. I can see us letting Bertie go in the upcoming window but Unai will decide that. Any incoming players will be to strengthen the squad, would Harrison do that?

  18. Whilst I have no interest in any other team (except when we’re about to play them) watching Manure struggle last night against a much changed Wai Ayes had a certain satisfaction. They are a mess from top to bottom. Binning ten Hag won’t address the toxic state of things at OT. Long may it continue. And I do hope Wayne gets a lengthy stay at Billy Smarts to collect a few more clowns.

  19. Plug, I know what you mean. It’s hard not to feel some satisfaction in seeing ‘entitled’ fans of some perennially successful clubs made to realise that for most fans, football is a series of disappointments rather than triumphs!

    There’s been a fair bit of talk of Emery being a good fit for United and some even saying that he’d go there in a flash. For that reason I’d rather see Ten Hag moved on sooner rather than later, as I think it’s unlikely that Emery would want to move just now, when such good things are building at Villa.

    If you were looking for significantly bigger Premiership clubs with greater history than Villa, that might tempt him, then the list is quite small. You’re probably only really talking United and Liverpool. (I’ve discounted Arsenal because of his recent history with them). City don’t have the prestige of the other 2 and any manager following on from Pep is onto a loser in the same way that Wenger and Ferguson’s successors have been. The same probably applies to Klopp’s successor(s) so that really only leaves United in the Premier league that could potentially be attractive to him.

    I’ve heard it said that our squad is now better than United’s but I’m not so sure about that. Based on current performance, then maybe, but in the right hands, they still have some very good players.

    For those reasons, and despite the unworthy pleasure of seeing United going through a difficult time, I’d like to either see Ten Hag turn it round (and here, I admit he was top of my wish list for the Villa job), or for him to be replaced very quickly whilst Emery is (surely) out of the frame.

  20. r0bBo, I’m not worried in the slightest about losing Unai to any of the mentioned clubs. He has a project here at VP that is second to none. He calls ALL the shots. He has HIS entire coaching team in place. He has THE owners who will back him to the hilt. He has fans who ADORE him. And most importantly, his most successful teams have been those with a VILLA in their name.

    No other club will offer him more salary than Compass. Clubs with super stars in their squad (Mbappe, Vinicius, Neymar and the like) are just more trouble than they’re worth. He knows this and knows he will be able to build a dynasty at VP. Sky’s the limit.

  21. Plug, I was as relaxed as you until I heard that part of Jim Ratcliffe’s take-over plans included changing their name to Manvilla United.

  22. Good afternoon good people. I am as ecstatic as any other Villa fan on our trajectory since Unai Emery came in.
    I think tomorrow we could have a tough test at Nottingham Forest. I believe we should change our team abit for tomorow so that we have more control in midfield. Put Tielemans in and drop Zaniolo.
    It means MCGinn and Diaby having more freedom to role and create chances for the side. Tielemans impressed in a free role in our win against AZ Alkmaar. Zaniolo and Bailey to come in as impact subs should things not work for for us. UTV.

  23. Jack, I feel the same as you, that tomorrow could be a tougher test than we’re expecting. Forest are very much a home team so far this season so they won’t be easy to breakdown. We’ve been astonishingly good at home but this could be a bit more of a test.

    It’s a well worn cliche, but Emery genuinely ‘does’ seem to take one game at a time so the players will be well prepared again I’m sure.

  24. Lineker and the rest of the MOTD crew are still droning on with their campaign against VAR.
    There was a really silly one tonight where a Wolves player caught a Sheffield United player in the box who went down.
    The Wolves manager admits there is contact but doesn’t think there was enough to give a penalty but the point is, that in real time, the referee made the decision. On replays you ‘might’ be able to make a case for the player making the most of the contact but there was very clearly not a ‘clear and obvious, error’ made.
    Without VAR, the penalty would have stood, so what on earth are they whinging about?
    It really is unintelligent of them and Lineker is not unintelligent, so why do they continue to knock VAR. I can only imagine it’s because they hate that VAR has reduced their ability to ramble on about refereeing decision and pretend that they could have done better.

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