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Aston Villa appoint Unai Emery as club's new manager

Aston Villa have moved swiftly to replace Steven Gerrard in the club’s managerial hotseat with the appointment of Villarreal boss Unai Emery.

Emery will officially take charge of the Villans on 1st November, after the Midlands club activated the Spaniard’s €6m release clause at La Liga club Villarreal. 

Caretaker Aaron Danks will therefore oversee 15th-placed Villa’s weekend fixture against Newcastle United before Emery gets to work early next week.

Perhaps most renowned for his Europa League exploits, a record four-time winner of the competition with Spanish clubs Sevilla and Villarreal, Emery has a wealth of experience having managed over 900 matches in a coaching career spanning almost two decades.

The acquisition of Emery, who has also managed clubs of the calibre of PSG and Arsenal, therefore represents an ambitious move from the Villa hierarchy who will be keen for the team to follow up their impressive 4-0 victory over Brentford at the weekend.

bet365’s Steve Freeth said: “Villa were hugely ambitious in shooting for the stars with Mauricio Pochettino and Thomas Tuchel but they’ve landed a manager with a trophy-laden CV as the Lions look to win their first piece of silverware since 1996.

"Staying in the division is his first task, but they shouldn’t have too many problems on that front if Sunday’s performance against Brentford is anything to go by."

Esteemed reputation

Emery arrives at Aston Villa as a highly-respected coach with a stellar CV in the game. 

After spending the majority of his playing days in the second-tier of Spanish football as a left-sided midfielder, Emery achieved promotions with both Lorca Deportivo and Almeria in his first two managerial roles before landing a move to Valencia.

In four seasons at Valencia, Emery’s charges finished in 3rd place in La Liga three times. Achieving Champions League qualification on two occasions, Valencia reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Europa League during Emery’s administration in 2009-10 and 2011-12 respectively. 

The 50-year-old then made his first foray overseas, enduring a dismal six-month period at Russian club Spartak Moscow before returning to Spain with Sevilla.

It was at Sevilla where Emery’s coaching reputation was crystallised, both domestically and across Europe. Between 2014 and 2016, Emery led Sevilla to three consecutive Europa League titles, defeating Benfica, FC Dnipro and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool in each of these finals respectively.

In light of these European exploits, PSG made their move to appoint the Spaniard in 2016 with the club desperately craving a maiden Champions League title. 

Emery would endure a disappointing first season in Paris, finishing second in Ligue 1 to Monaco and suffering the ignominy of a 6-1 second leg defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou to crash out of the Champions League in the round of 16 having won the opening tie 4-0.

Although enjoying a more successful second campaign, in which PSG won a domestic treble, the Spaniard was relieved of his duties after succumbing to a second round of 16 exit in the Champions League to eventual winners Real Madrid.

The Basque Country-born manager’s next move was to replace Arsene Wenger as Arsenal boss in the English Premier League in 2018. Given the difficult task of succeeding a man who had served the Gunners for a total of 22 years, Emery’s first period in English football did not go particularly smoothly.

Although overseeing a 22-match unbeaten run and reaching yet another Europa League final with Arsenal during his first season in the job, the team’s narrow failure to qualify for the Champions League and their eventual 4-1 drubbing in the European showpiece to London rivals Chelsea in Baku stained the first campaign.

After a poor start to his second season in charge, Emery was relieved of his duties and ultimately left frustrated by his first Premier League experience.

The Spanish tactician was once again able to restore his reputation in his homeland, this time with Villarreal, whom he took charge of ahead of the 2020-21 La Liga season.

Retaining his trademark ability to reach lofty heights in European competition, Emery inspired Villarreal to Europa League glory in his first season, knocking out old club Arsenal in the semi-finals before overcoming Manchester United on penalties in the final.

The Yellow Submarine would follow up this Europa League success by reaching a first-ever Champions League semi-final, upsetting Italian and German giants Juventus and Bayern Munich before eventually succumbing to Liverpool.

After previously rebuffing Newcastle United’s advances to become their new manager before the Magpies appointed Eddie Howe last season, the time is now for Emery to make his return to English football with Aston Villa.

After a sour end to his first taste of the Premier League with Arsenal, Emery arrives at Villa with a point to prove.

An ardently-supported and well-backed club regarded by many as a sleeping giant, having famously won the European Cup in 1982, you can certainly see why the Aston Villa job proved attractive to Emery.

You can bet on Aston Villa to finish in the top half of the Premier League this season at 2/1, with odds of 6/1 for the Villans to be relegated.

If you have faith in Emery’s cup-winning pedigree, you can back Aston Villa to win a trophy this season at 12/1.

Tactical approach

Turning attention towards how this Aston Villa side could look under the auspices of new boss Emery, it’s pertinent to assess the identity of the teams he has previously managed.

Typically favouring a 4-2-3-1 formation, Emery has also utilised a 4-4-2 setup which proved particularly fruitful in recent years at previous club Villarreal.

Whatever the formation deployed, Emery’s teams appear extremely organised both in and out of possession. Very tactical in his approach, with intense attention to details, each player is given clearly established roles and responsibilities within his preferred system.

At Valencia and Sevilla, Emery employed a largely counter-attacking style within a 4-2-3-1 formation. At the latter, the Spaniard enjoyed success with a lone striker proficient in one-on-one situations in Colombian Carlos Bacca, with the technically gifted trio of Ivan Rakitic, Jose Antonio Reyes and Vitolo rotating in behind.

The same formation in which Villa looked far-improved in the weekend’s 4-0 triumph over Brentford, Emery has a number of players at his disposal who could suit such a counter-attacking style.

The Villa squad boasts real dynamism and quality going forward, with strikers of the ilk of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, and a number of creative talents to choose from behind them such as Leon Bailey, Emi Buendia, Philippe Coutinho, John McGinn and Jacob Ramsey.

How all these pieces fit together represents perhaps Emery’s primary problem as he takes on the Villa job, with previous incumbent Steven Gerrard struggling to stumble upon a well-balanced setup which got the best of out of his players.

Establishing a settled partnership in the middle of the park may be the best place to start for Emery, whose previous teams have been characterised by a highly-influential midfield base.

At Valencia Ever Banega and David Silva at Valencia exerted great influence in midfield, with Emery installing other distinguished partnerships including Stephane M’Bia and Daniel Carrico at Sevilla, Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka at Arsenal, and Dani Parejo and Etienne Capoue at Villarreal.

It will be interesting to see what personnel Emery favours in this area of the pitch at Villa, with caretaker Aaron Dinks selecting a duo of Douglas Luiz and summer signing Leander Dendoncker against Brenford.

This lineup did not include club captain John McGinn or the much-vaunted academy graduate and England Under 21s internationalist Jacob Ramsey, and it remains to be seen how Emery goes about structuring his midfield with a number of options to choose from.

Should the new manager wish to use strikers Watkins and Ings in tandem in attack, he may opt to roll out a 4-4-2 system comparable to that he installed at Villarreal with more of a rigid midfield.

Cause for optimism amongst the Villa faithful can be drawn from Emery’s track record of getting the best out of strikers, such as Carlos Bacca at Sevilla, Edinson Cavani at PSG and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal, who were all able to display their best form under the Spaniard’s stewardship.

Improving the output of Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings could just be instrumental in turning Villa’s season around, with the Villans’ currently one of the Premier League’s lowest scoring teams despite their comprehensive victory over Brentford at the weekend.

Only Wolves and Nottingham Forest have registered less than Aston Villa’s 11 Premier League goals so far this season, with strikers Watkins and Ings having notched just five between them.

It is therefore apparent that Emery will be faced with a host of selection dilemmas upon taking the Aston Villa job, but as a four-time Europa League-winning manager, he will more than back himself to have what it takes to help restore Aston Villa to their previous heights.

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