Aston Villa: The Unai Emery gamble is about to reap European rewards

From relegation battlers to European incumbents, Aston Villa have shown astute decision-making, with Unai Emery stamping his authority.

Last week, a considerable amount of graphical tweets showed how Aston Villa have taken the most wins apart from Arsenal and Manchester City in the league since the appointment of Unai Emery. The numbers are astonishing. But that does not reflect on the style of football played at Villa Park.

Emery’s revival of a club like Aston Villa showed that managers should not get judged as failures owing to an experience in the Premier League. The Basque boss failed with his project at Arsenal. But the task was always challenging, considering he replaced a manager at the helm for 22 years.

Still, the early signs during his Arsenal reign was positive, considering he went on a 19-game unbeaten run in all competitions. He also took the Gunners close to Champions League qualification through league standings and by reaching the Europa League final in the first time of asking.

At that stage, it was clear Arsenal hired him for his European pedigree. The Gunners’ board, no matter how mismanaged they were at the time, had clear objectives. They thoroughly thought of spending life in the Europa League. Emery, by then, had already won the competition three times and did it again with Villarreal after departing the Emirates.

Owing to how his second season at Arsenal started and ended with the sacking, his image was somewhat tarnished. Between some contested decisions and his inability to speak fluent English, the Spaniard suffered irreparable damage to his reputation. But in football, things change depending on the situation at hand.

Emery was not desperate to return to England and consolidate his image. His Europa League final win over Manchester United had not gone unnoticed as several Premier League sides kept tabs. Yet, his decision to reject the Newcastle United job before Eddie Howe took over showed the man was not keen to come back into the spotlight unless the project felt right for his profile.

Hence, the move to Aston Villa made plenty of sense for Emery, considering the club’s status and ambitions in the short to medium term. Newcastle United fans would not swap Howe for anyone at the moment, and that should also what Aston Villa fans will think currently, as the Spaniard is the best man to take the club ahead.

How Aston Villa revived their season?

Decision-making is the key word in describing Aston Villa’s action. Between Scott Parker (Bournemouth) and Graham Potter (Chelsea), 12 Premier League managers got the sack this season, with the number higher than any other season before.

Steven Gerrard’s name remains somewhere higher on that list. Villa decided early rather than waiting for the club to get dragged into the relegation zone so late in the season. They were in the conversation of going down earlier in the campaign but changed the course with their astute decision-making.

Rather than waiting, Villa made the optimistic move of luring a manager with a tremendous European pedigree. Christian Purslow reportedly went to Spain to hold direct talks, and Villa were ready to pay a premium to get their man.

Without hesitating, Villa readily paid Emery’s release clause and provided him with a perfect project. Without any hint of hesitation, the former Villarreal boss said yes and took over the mantle. Since his arrival, the revival has been so good that the Villa Park faithful have forgotten that impending relegation fight and now gear up for possible European football next season.

How has Emery transformed Villa’s fortunes?

Aston Villa have been a steady presence since returning to the Premier League. Dean Smith was a good manager for them. But at some stage, they had to get around the idea that he would not improve them any further. Hence, the appointment of Gerrard seemed progressive at the time, even though it failed.

Gerrard came with the reputation of what he achieved with Rangers. While the Scottish Premiership does not set the world alight with its football, Gerrard was its standout manager. Their astute decision-making to correct their error and boot out the Liverpool legend for a proven performer in Emery will go a long way toward determining their success.

Since Emery’s arrival, he has got the best out of the players underperforming under Gerrard. For instance, Ollie Watkins has become a clinical, reliable presence in goal to Douglas Luiz, dictating play in midfield.

Emery has done what some top managers would do to a faltering team, bring balance. He did not fancy making tactical changes or defying their previous shape altogether. Instead, he looked at the squad well and structured the team to remain strong on the field.

A solid win over Manchester United at home showcased a resilient side to their game unseen before and their clinical nature in the attack. Talent was always present. But they needed someone like Emery to nurture it and bring it out correctly.

He has rebuilt the confidence in players like Watkins to secure the future of Luiz for the longer term. Emery has also brought defensive resilience, with Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa making light work of opposition attacks.

The stats also speak volumes of their progress, after garnering most wins after Arsenal and Man City since Emery’s arrival. They have also scored in 17 straight Premier League games, indicating this is the European form Villa displayed.

There have been some blips. But the progress outweighs the overall progress considerably. Some of their numbers are not shining, but the points on board are all that matter to them. Emery has brought about consistency never seen before in this team.

Are Aston Villa well placed for Europe?

They have the financial power to compete with other top teams. But coming into Europe will improve their pull power in the transfer market. Emery will hope for an improbable finish within European places. It would certainly improve the club’s stature, but will they conjure something?

After the most recent matchday, Villa are sixth with 30 games on board. They have tough clashes coming, notably against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United. They also finish the season at home against a flying Brighton side.

Looking at their current form, they should take victories in many games. That includes Brentford, a possible rival for a European place. Villa’s next test is to show consistency and resilience to make it into Europe.

They might happily take a top-half finish but would love to bring European football to Villa Park after many years. Emery is key to their success. And if they get into Europe, the Spaniard will make them contenders in whichever competition they are playing.

Some games can test Villa’s character, but also those that can put them down. They can fire up their confidence and motivate the players to finish as high as possible. Either way, they will be happy with the progress made under Emery as they find themselves in a position nobody dared to dream of when sacking Gerrard.

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