Aston Villa – From Relegation-threatened to European Challengers
This season’s Premier League has been an extremely entertaining one. There are so many stories up and down the table, from Arsenal’s title challenge to a relegation battle larger than we’ve ever seen before., the 2022-23 Premier League has had it all.
A side that has quietly been progressing up the table though, is Aston Villa. Unai Emery has taken the Villans from just above the relegation zone to being genuine contenders for a European place in the span of six months.
So, how has Emery done it? And how far can Villa go throughout their current hot streak?
Unai Emery has transformed Aston Villa during his short time at the helm. Some questioned the sacking of Steven Gerrard in October, with the former Rangers manager just about managing to keep The Lions’ above the dotted relegation zone.
However, everybody will now be in unanimous agreement that Villa have upgraded with their managerial alteration. Emery’s start to life at Villa Park was sensational, as Villa only lost one of their first seven Premier League matches under the Spaniard.
A remarkable record was also set, as Emery’s start produced 20 Premier League matches in a row where Villa scored, over half the season! It was the latest burst in this run that was particularly successful, with the West Midlands club going ten unbeaten until they lost this weekend against Manchester United.
While Newcastle United’s rise should be commended, Villa’s is arguably even more impressive and is without doubt more unexpected.
How have they done it?
If you look at Villa under Gerrard and compare it with the club under Emery, the differences are seismic. Starting at the back, the Villans have been far more solid defensively. Under Gerrard, they conceded an average of 1.4 goals per game, compared to 1 goal per game under Emery
With a defensive back line that includes the likes of Tyrone Mings, Ezri Konsa and Ashley Young and of course World Cup winning goalkeeper Emi Martinez in net, Villa aren’t an easy side to score against for any side.
It’s in attack where Villa really shine though and in particular Ollie Watkins, who is a man transformed under Emery. Watkins has netted 14 times in the Premier League, which puts him only behind the likes of Erling Haaland, Harry Kane, Ivan Toney and Mohamed Salah.
Watkins is on-track to break his scoring record in the Premier League this season (16) and could become Villa’s highest scorer in the top flight since Christian Benteke scored 23 back in 2012-13.
Villa’s average goals scored per game under Gerrard this season was only 0.58 but under Emery, it’s increased hugely to 1.6 goals per game, over double! So, unsurpirsingly, conceding less and scoring more has completely turned Villa’s season around.
So, the main question now is can Villa do it? Can they make it to Europe? Well, given their current form, it’s more a question of which European competition they’ll qualify for, rather than if they’ll make it.
Villa currently sit in seventh and while they could in theory still make the top four and the UEFA Champions League, that’s probably a bridge too far. The defeat at Old Trafford at the weekend put paid to that dream, with the gap now being nine points with four games remaining.
The battle for the Europa competitions is well and truly on, though! Fifth place is always enough to qualify for the Europa League, but with Manchester United winning the League Cup and both Manchester clubs in the final of the FA Cup, these places will extend down to seventh.
Liverpool are resurgent and look to be finally hitting their stride this season, so we’re backing them to stay in fifth by the end of the season. Tottenham Hotspur however, are very difficult to read and although they’ve shown fighting spirit under Ryan Mason, their results have been poor.
Brighton and Brenford could trouble Villa, but both seem to be running out of steam somewhat. So, we’re backing Villa to finish in sixth and qualify for next season’s Europa League, their first European campaign in over a decade.
Villa fans wouldn’t have believed it was possible in October, but it seems like European nights are probably returning to Villa Park next season. And who’s the most successful manager in the history of the Europa League? None other than Unai Emery!
While he may have failed at Arsenal and been underwhelming at PSG, Emery is working the magic that made him so successful in Spain in Birmingham with Aston Villa!
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