There’s just something about those Friday nights under the lights at Villa Park as Unai Emery made it 13 points from a possible 18 so far and, with it, became the most-successful manager after a six-game start since John Gregory 25 years ago in 1998.
The stats keep coming as well with no other side in the Premier League taking more points since Emery’s first game in charge back in November.
Leon Bailey got the party started early last night as Villa defended a Leeds’ corner and scored within 17 seconds from one end of the pitch to the other. Emery’s men relied on some brilliance from debutant Alex Moreno and Emi Martinez before Emi Buendia’s quick-thinking header put the game out of sight. Patrick Bamford’s goal back seven minutes from time made it a little nervy towards the end but Villa got over that winning line to record their first win at home since beating Man United in Emery’s first game some ten weeks ago. Here’s the talking points from last night…
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAIL FOR ELITE-LEVEL EMERY
Visit: https://t.co/uWTLmR3Jut for more information ans also SCHOLARSHIPS UPDATES..!!!— Reuters Business (@ReutersBusinezz) February 14, 2023
Where best to start with the manager himself. The turnaround since his appointment has been simply staggering. “Positioning, he’s mad for positioning,” so said the injured John McGinn prior to kick-off yesterday as the captain gave us all a flavour of Emery’s methods. “He talks about body position, just little details I’ve never experienced and I feel as if he’s improved me in the short-term.”
It’s been an improvement across the board: running stats, shots faced per game, goals conceded. The Basque has revolutionised Aston Villa and his reaction to Buendia’s match-clinching goal after it was given was quite something. Emery just exploded with pure emotion knowing just how crucial a moment it was. “We changed something to keep the ball possession longer and that, for us, was the key,” Emery said of his instructions at half-time with Leeds well on top.
There was a telling quote from Matty Cash last week, who said: “The gaffer always tells us that it’s a long game, 90 minutes is a long time so you have to be patient and find time to get back into the game.”
And that’s exactly what Villa did last night having settled down after the break before finding that killer second. Plus, winning in the manner in which Villa did – grinding it out as a unit – bodes well with Emery getting the reaction he demanded after Villa’s recent performances at home. The players are right with the manager.
ASHLEY YOUNG WINS GNONTO BATTLE
Now a lot will be made of Emi Martinez’s ridiculous save to deny Jack Harrison at 1-0 but just look at how Young throws his body at Wilfried Gnonto who was about to lash home the follow up. Yet again, Young rolled back the years in claret and blue and, as he always says, age is nothing but a number.
“It was a good battle,” Young said of his encounter with 19-year-old Italian international Gnonto on that right side. “I was feeling my back at half-time but it’s one of them, the manager’s put me in the team to have battles like that, I’m just delighted with the three points tonight.”
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville waxed lyrical about Gnonto, saying: “I will go away tonight thinking it is the best atmosphere I’ve seen at Villa Park for a long time and that I’ve seen a special young talent in Gnonto. He was absolutely exceptional.
“Sometimes you see potential and talent but watching him so closely, his understanding of where to be and his choice of pass and when to run with it, it was really, really good. To see someone so mature and so young is extremely unusual in that position.”
Barring Gnonto nudging Young in the back which led to Bamford’s goal back, the Villa ace had his marker’s number. Young won eight tackles, made two big clearances, blocked two goalbound shots and set Boubacar Kamara free prior to Bailey’s opener. He was outstanding… again.
ALEX MORENO PASSES ACID TEST
Staying with full-backs and what a baptism of fire it was for Alex Moreno. The Spaniard, signed 48 hours before kick-off last night, was thrust into it just 10 minutes in after Lucas Digne’s shoulder injury. Emery revealed afterwards that he would have been reluctant to give his new £12m signing a runout had Digne not picked up an injury. Moreno, though, thrived and soon got to grips with the pace and demands of Premier League football.
“His adaptation is going to be quicker having played tonight,” Emery said of his fellow Spaniard. “He struggled a little bit with the rhythm and intensity. It was different but he reacted very, very well. He finished the match showing us his skill and he got in the box and had two good chances to score. He crossed some good balls as well. I’m so happy with him.”
Despite arriving a little late, Moreno had by far the most touches of the ball (80) with Ezri Konsa (72) and Douglas Luiz (71) next best. It was sink or swim time for the former Betis man who looks right at home already.
BOUBACAR A CLASS ABOVE
A quick nod to a player Villa fans have fallen in love with: Kamara. Again, the easy-on-the-eye Frenchman oozed class from minute one to minute 95. He outpassed everyone (54) and started some key transitions which allowed Villa to really get at Leeds’ backline. The 23-year-old is calmness personified whenever he gets on the ball and, for a manager who likes his players to be calm and patient in possession, Emery must be absolutely delighted to be working with a player of Kamara’s ilk. What a signing he’s turning out to be.
NEED FOR NEW STRIKER AFTER WATKINS SETBACK
And lastly, Villa’s win last night came at a cost with Digne and Ollie Watkins both forced off within the first half-hour. Digne has picked up a nasty-looking shoulder injury and could barely walk as he headed into the tunnel. As for Watkins, again, he struggled and couldn’t sprint properly after attempting to shake off what appeared to be a rolled ankle.
Thankfully, the signing of Moreno has helped at left-back given the injuries to Digne and Ludwig Augustinsson, while Matty Cash is hopeful of a return from his groin injury next week against Southampton.
However, Watkins’ injury means Villa have just one fit out-and-out forward, Danny Ings. Goal hero Buendia started alongside Watkins last night with Bailey beginning from the right-hand side. Watkins’ setback could now quicken Villa’s need for attacking reinforcements.
With Cameron Archer since departing on loan to Middlesbrough, Emery was asked about the potential need for a new centre-forward this month, to which he replied: “It depends because I’ve been so happy with Danny Ings and Watkins because they are the specific strikers. I think with both we are well. Sometimes we can play with Leon Bailey as well thinking he can be more of a striker than a winger. But I want to use different players as well playing inside, thinking as a No.10 more than playing with two specific strikers.
“But if we can add someone in the attacking third, we are ready to do it. But only if we can add one player who’ll improve the team, the squad and to help us in a different profile, maybe.”
Emery, meanwhile, will check up on Watkins’ ankle injury today (Saturday). “We’ll know more on Saturday,” Emery told, SportEarly with Villa’s striker department surely a concern now with a fortnight remaining of the transfer window. Villa cannot leave themselves short in that attacking third if they’re planning on chasing down those above them with 19 fixtures remaining. Given Watkins’ latest setback and Ings’ patchy form, a new striker should now take priority before the 11pm deadline on January 31.