Since Unai Emery took over as Aston Villa head coach in the first week of November, they have shaken off the torpor that had accompanied Steven Gerrard’s brief reign and the final days of Dean Smith’s prolonged roller-coaster ride.
The statistics, as is usually the case, speak for themselves. Saturday’s often audacious 3-0 win over AFC Bournemouth (see report below) was Emery’s greatest. His charges have won eight games, drawn two and lost only four. That’s a top-six return by any measure. They are now 11th but Newcastle United, Fulham, Brentford and Brighton & Hove Albion are yet to visit Villa Park. With Villa’s tailwind, the Europa League and the Conference are within sight. Here’s what’s changed since Emery’s arrival.
Emery has remained loyal to Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings in the center of defence. The pair share similar qualities – attack strength, tracking Nous – and under Emery, both are less prone to lapses in focus. Going about their business differently, Konsa is a thoughtful presence, while Mings himself amid the bustle on Saturday could be heard encouraging and guiding his colleagues.
At full-back, however, Emery’s reset has prevailed. Matty Cash has won the right-back battle with Ashley Young, while Alex Moreno – Emery’s only signing alongside fringe player Jhon Duran – has edged out Lucas Digne. Cash and Moreno are front players with impressive engines. Both driving up and down the flanks in Imperial fashion, supporting and complementing Jacob Ramsey and Leon Bailey.
Serenity in midfield
Gerrard didn’t fall for the charms of Douglas Luiz until Boubacar Kamara was injured in September and John McGinn struggled with a new, more defensive role. Emery has built his team around the pair, allowing McGinn to take on more creative responsibility, while midfielder Douglas Luiz was directly involved in all three goals on Saturday.
Right in front of them, Ramsey admits he’s reveling in a new, more advanced role, and Bailey’s orthodox wingplay provides an outlet. In between, sparkling-toed Emiliano Buendia is finally looking like a £33million helmsman in midfield, having completed just 90 minutes once this season prior to Emery’s arrival.
With Emery wary of the often indisposed Philippe Coutinho and brave enough to sack Danny Ings, he brought Ollie Watkins back to the team with spectacular results. After scoring once under Gerrard and once under caretaker Aaron Danks this season, Watkins was only the second time in eight games that Watkins had not scored on Saturday. It didn’t matter: he gave the Bournemouth defense a terrible afternoon. Villa have now scored in every league and cup game under Emery.
A new way
After Saturday’s game, Emery spoke of creating “a new path” for Aston Villa. These are early days and the roster is pretty worn, but having remodeled the playstyle in a remarkably short span of time with the overwhelming majority of those who have struggled under Gerrard, he might just be into something.
Report: Luiz is reborn as Villa shows her potential
By John Aizlewood
He wasn’t always appreciated by Aston Villa fans, but Douglas Luiz gets his due. Signed by Dean Smith but often losing as a sole midfielder and not always trusted by Steven Gerrard, the Brazil international thrived under Unai Emery and his season culminated in Saturday’s comprehensive win over a brave but limited Bournemouth .
Since Emery’s first game in November, Villa have shown a huge leap in form and they are in the top six in terms of points gained during that period and remain on the rock tails of Arsenal and the two Manchester sides.
Luiz managed just one assist under Gerrard and caretaker Aaron Danks, but the Brazil international has recorded two goals and four assists in 14 games under Emery.
In his program notes, Emery stated a top 10 finish as his goal. After introducing Luiz, Emery admitted that “a new target might be needed.”
On Saturday, Luiz was directly involved everywhere and in all three Villa gates: start and finish of the first; He took the free kick that produced the second and his corner produced the third.
Alongside John McGinn, he was central to Villa’s victory; Spraying balls left for Ollie Watkins, right to Jacob Ramsey and thwarting Phillip Billing’s attacking tendencies. No wonder, then, that after scoring the third goal he turned to his former doubters among Villa believers and gave a theatrical bow.
“It was the team’s best performance since I’ve been here and Douglas Luiz’s best performance,” said Emery. “I’m very happy with him. He’s so important to us, both with his skill and his character in the squad. He’s incredibly focused and the way he holds his position allows us to knock out other teams. He takes up good space, is strong offensively and has the passion to get the ball.”
Of course, Luiz was not alone. Unusually these days, Watkins missed but gave Jack Stephens a hot afternoon while Emiliano Buendia was a stray figure who darted at will through the chasms in Bournemouth’s defence. Villa’s new owners, Executive Chairman Naseef Sawiris and US-based Chairman Wes Edens, attended a game together for the first time under Emery.
“They seemed happy,” Emery said after the biggest win of his reign. “You are the owners, we are the professionals. We’re trying to break new ground here and that was the day I felt safe in front of the teams among us, but also the day we really connected with our fans.
Bournemouth’s best moment came in the 79th when Adam Smith was replaced by David Brooks, the Welsh winger who made his first appearance since September 2021 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “He had a tough fight,” said Bournemouth manager Gary O’Neil.
For them, Dominic Solanke missed a couple of chances, one thanks to a great interception from Tyrone Mings.
But despite O’Neil’s reassurances that his side were still in it until things fell apart in the frantic final 10 minutes, during which Villa rushed forward and scored two late goals through Ramsey and Buendia, they were consistently second best. Only Neto’s heroics, slowing down Watkins and Mings, prevented a more comprehensive victory. As the relegation battle draws to a close, Bournemouth once again have plenty to think about.
Source : sports.yahoo.com