Villa show vital progress in implementing key Emery principle

For weeks, Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has been reiterating the importance of a key principle of how he wants his side to play, and we’re now seeing progress.

While there were disappointing setbacks in recent weeks, particularly at home, several games took on a back-and-forth rhythm where we ultimately looked vulnerable defensively and conceded too many goals.

Our consecutive 4-2 defeats at Villa Park against Leicester City and Arsenal respectively were a case in point, and that needed to be addressed as ultimately it was clear that was not how Emery wanted us to play.

READ MORE: Emery still searching for solution to unlock Villa ace’s impact

Time and time again, the Spanish tactician spoke about wanting to ‘control’ games, to dictate possession and tempo and to have better game-management to nullify the threat of the opposition, and then allow us to play our attacking style to break the lines swiftly in the final third by speeding up the tempo and creating openings.

Over the last three games, and particularly in the first half at West Ham, we saw exactly what Emery is demanding from his Villa players.

In the opening 45 minutes, we were composed, patient and measured in our approach, dominating possession even if it was in our own third before building our play through the midfield, and that took the sting out of the opening exchanges as West Ham were left frustrated and without any clear-cut opportunities.

As we can see in the video below, that style and approach almost led to us also scoring a superb goal, and in truth, Ollie Watkins will be bitterly disappointed that he didn’t double his tally as he should have scored from close-range.

What consistently stood out on Sunday though was the way we were prepared to be patient, to build slowly from the back, and then pounce in the final third when we could find space and create chances.

In order for that to work at home too, it’s going to require patience and encouragement from us in the stands to play the preferred way, and while it was a point that Matty Cash emphasised last week after our win over Crystal Palace, Jacob Ramsey echoed that sentiment this week too.

“It’s the way the boss wants to play,” he said, as quoted by BirminghamLive. “Sometimes, at home especially, the supporters want us to attack the opposition as soon as possible. But the boss has been clear, right from when he came in, that he wants us to take time on the ball. Emi [Martinez] doesn’t rush to play it out to the centre backs.

“It has taken time to get used to, but we’ve got to. It’s been difficult at times. I’ve played on the left, on the right. It’s taken a while but I think with each game everyone is getting that bit more comfortable and, with 12 games left, hopefully we can keep pushing up the table.”

“In the week the boss always shows us our goals and there is a pattern, when we take time on the ball and don’t rush our decision-making, the chances come. That’s what happened on Sunday with Ollie’s goal.”

That is ultimately the way forward for us now, as it’s true, it’s a continuous trend where if we take our time to carve open the opposition, we invariably do create dangerous moments where we can score. We see it with Martinez looking to encourage the opposition’s first line of press to close in on him, and that then opens up space between them and their midfield which we can exploit quickly if we get it right.

As soon as we fall back into the trap of trying too much, too quickly, it leaves us open to being countered and exploited at the back, and that’s not the way Emery wants to see us play.

It’s both encouraging and important that the players are now executing that game-plan on a consistent basis, as it shows that the methods and demands are getting through and being understood to develop our identity and style of play for long-term results rather than the occasional good result here or there.

Moving forward, it’s hoped that it’s honed and improved further to be more effective and efficient in getting wins as there is still clearly room for improvement to make it work over 90 minutes, but Emery will surely be pleased that his constant demand for control of games is now being heeded and we’re moving in the right direction.

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