Having climbed from the relegation zone in September to qualify for the Europa Conference League on the final day of the 2022/23 campaign, Aston Villa will be aiming to build on a superb second half of the season.
Stadium: Villa Park
Manager: Unai Emery
Captain: John McGinn
Top league scorer last season: Ollie Watkins – 15
Last season’s position: 7th
To Finish in Top 4 – 8/1
To be in Top 6 – 3/1
To Finish in Top Half – 2/5
To finish in Bottom Half – 7/4
Aston Villa's 2022/23 campaign began with the stripping of the captaincy from Tyrone Mings by Steven Gerrard, who threw Mings to the wolves somewhat, suggesting he wasn't ready to play.
An injury to Diego Carlos meant Mings was reinstated to the starting XI, albeit not as captain, but after two wins in 11, Villa found themselves in a relegation battle, and following up a 4-0 win over Brentford with a 4-0 loss to Fulham saw Gerrard dismissed.
Unai Emery took the reins and kicked off his tenure with an impressive win over Manchester United as Villa went about a rapid ascent up the table, and a run after the turn of the year that saw the Villans take 26 points from a possible 30 results in a first European campaign since 2010/11.
Since their return to the Premier League in 2019, Aston Villa have spent vast sums of money to ensure they become mainstays again after a three-year stint in the Championship.
Ollie Watkins has been a key member of the Villa side since his club-record transfer in 2020, scoring double figures in all three seasons, but the departure of Danny Ings seemed to kick-start Watkins’ season, scoring 11 goals in 12 games.
After a period of flux at the start of last season, with Steven Gerrard stripping Tyrone Mings of the captaincy, only to lose new signing Diego Carlos to a serious injury, Mings with Erzi Konsa formed a potent partnership that really shone in the final third of the season.
Across their final 15 games, Villa kept seven clean sheets, and didn’t concede more than once in their other eight games.
Nevertheless, Unai Emery has reunited with Pau Torres, bringing the centre-back in from Villarreal, while their midfield also has plenty of depth ahead of their European campaign.
Boubacar Kamara will be fit and raring to go once again, with John McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Jacob Ramsey, Youri Tielemens and Leander Dendoncker providing Emery with freedom to rotate his side as they navigate the Europa Conference League.
With Emery at the helm for a full campaign, Villa fans can be optimistic that they’ll be challenging for the European places once again, and must reach the latter stages of the Europa Conference League if not going all the way.
The experiment with Steven Gerrard at Villa Park failed, with the Liverpool legend failing to see out a full year in the dugout, picking up just 44 points from 38 games.
The decision to bring in a more experienced coach in Unai Emery was quickly vindicated with the Villans beating Manchester United 3-1 for his game in charge, later going on an unbeaten run of eight wins and two draws from late February to catapult Villa up the table.
Emery would first rise to prominence as manager of Valencia, where in each of his final three seasons his side finished third in La Liga, qualifying for the Champions League.
An ill-fated spell in Russia with Spartak Moscow lasted only a few months, with Emery returning to Spain for his most successful managerial spell.
Emery spent two-and-a-half years in Andalucia as Sevilla manager, winning the Europa League three times, earning him a move to PSG.
He was unable to extend his European success, being famously dumped out of the Champions League after losing 6-1 to Barcelona despite establishing a 5-0 first-leg lead, leaving at the end of the season to join Arsenal.
But after just over one full season in North London, in which Emery failed to reach the Champions League, Emery was dismissed, returning to Spain as Villarreal manager.
Once again, Emery’s prowess in the Europa League came to the fore, beating Manchester United in the final before reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, being knocked out by Liverpool the season after.
Aston Villa have quality all over the park, from World Cup-winning goalkeeper Emi Martinez, to Diego Carlos – who couldn’t even get back in the team after his recovery from a lengthy injury owing to the form of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa – to Douglas Luiz and John McGinn in midfield, with Leon Bailey and Emi Buendia providing the creative spark.
But – especially after losing former strike partner Ings in January – Villa’s success hinges on Watkins’ form and fitness.
The 27-year-old has been superb since arriving at Villa Park, with 14, 11 and 15 goals across his three seasons in the Midlands, thriving in his new role in the squad since Emery’s appointment.
With a central defensive partnership of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa playing so well that Diego Carlos couldn’t get back in the team after his recovery from an Achilles injury, a new centre-back perhaps seemed like the least of Aston Villa’s priorities.
But Unai Emery has jumped at the chance with reuniting with the defender he spent two years working with at Villarreal.
It was around this time last year that Pau Torres was being linked with the likes of Manchester United and Juventus, but with a move not materialising, Villa have swooped to strengthen their back line.
Not the most traditional defender, it will be interesting to see how Torres copes with the demands of English football, but his ball-playing and overall technical ability should be a huge boost to Emery.
(4-4-1-1): Martinez, Cash, Konsa, Torres, Moreno, McGinn (c), Kamara, Luiz, Buendia, Diaby, Watkins.
Aston Villa's opening six Premier League fixtures are as follows:
|2022/23||7th (Premier League)|
|2021/22||14th (Premier League)|
|2020/21||11th (Premier League)|
|2019/20||17th (Premier League)|
Odds correct at time of publishing and subject to change.