With Unai Emery set to arrive at Aston Villa next week, the current squad will look to impress him when we face Newcastle Utd on Saturday afternoon.
As per the club’s statement, the Spanish tactician will take charge on November 1 and so it will be fascinating to see how quickly he can get his ideas across to the players in the games prior to the break for the World Cup.
His first game in charge will come against Man Utd on Sunday November 6, and we’ll get our first look as to how he intends to set his Villa side up and which individuals will get an early chance to establish themselves in his starting XI.
Based on what we saw last time out at Brentford though, Emery could be provided with some important solutions that he will no doubt continue to closely analyse between now and his first game at the helm.
Dendoncker, Luiz and Buendia could have big roles in 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2
Given the players available to him in defence, particularly with the injuries to Diego Carlos and Lucas Digne, Emery will be limited in terms of options in that department and so the expectation will be that he’ll stick to a familiar backline with Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings and Ashley Young forming a back four in front of Emiliano Martinez.
It will be an opportunity for him to see whether or not his senior players can adapt to his philosophy and style of play, or whether or not others in the squad can provide better solutions or if new additions are needed in January.
What we do know for now though is that Emery has shown a preference for a 4-2-3-1 system in his previous jobs, albeit a 4-4-2 at Villarreal more recently too, and that could be the way we go in the coming weeks given how impressive we looked in that formation last weekend.
If he does stick with it, it gives Leander Dendoncker, Douglas Luiz and Emiliano Buendia a big opportunity to cement their respective places in Emery’s plans.
While each squad is different and the characteristics of players differ, it was fascinating to watch Emery’s tactical breakdown of his Sevilla’s side win over Liverpool in the Europa League final in 2016 for The Coaches’ Voice.
His assessment of Krychowiak, N’Zonzi and Banega and their roles in his system was interesting, as well as the emphasis he places on his full-backs and wingers, and it could be huge for the Villa trio named above as they provide similar attributes and strengths that would potentially fit his plans well.
Looking at a more recent example, his Villarreal side adopted a similar set up at times with Parejo and Coquelin in the midfield pivot with Baena in the No.10 role when using a 4-2-3-1, but he could easily use the Villa trio in a 4-4-2 as well with Buendia pushed out wide on the opposite flank to Leon Bailey with Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings up top.
Dendoncker was handed his first Villa start on Sunday and in 63 minutes he had 38 touches, 96% passing accuracy, won four of his five duels while registering three tackles, two interceptions and three clearances.
His industry, physical presence and defensive solidity was perfectly complemented by Luiz’s technical quality as he had three key passes, provided an assist, 85% passing accuracy and had 60 touches of the ball as he was able to drift into a more advanced midfield position at times to create problems for Brentford in the attacking phase.
The pair provide a promising dynamic and balance in that midfield pivot, and so that could be the way Emery goes, particularly if they both impress again this weekend, as they offer a solid foundation to his midfield which is an integral aspect of his approach.
Meanwhile, Buendia provided intensity, urgency, creativity and aggression in his work on and off the ball as a No.10, and that tenacity and technical class will surely be welcomed with open arms by Emery if we see the 4-2-3-1 stay in place as he will demand that level of work defensively from all of his players to make his style work.
Buendia not only has the football IQ and awareness but importantly he has the legs to get through that level of work in both phases, and there is genuine hope that the Argentine playmaker will be fundamental.
While it’s hoped that key players right across the pitch benefit from Emery’s arrival, it’s natural that certain individuals will be an ideal fit in his plans. The likes of Watkins, Ings and Bailey will all hope to flourish under his stewardship, but Dendoncker, Luiz and Buendia could potentially be real focal points of the side moving forward and there will undoubtedly be others watching on ready to take advantage of any opportunities they get too.