Both Unai Emery and Ollie Watkins have insisted there is a lot to be positive about for Aston Villa, but there is a big test still ahead for the group.
Emery oversaw his first training session at Bodymoor Heath just over a week ago, and in a rather unique scenario, he has faced Man Utd in back-to-back games to start his tenure.
It’s one win and one loss for the Spanish tactician, with Villa scoring five goals and conceding five goals across those two outings.
At this early stage of his reign though, it’s arguably more about implementing and instilling his ideas and style of play, and identifying which players will fit into those and what tactical tweaks and alterations he needs to make in the short term to get the best out of those at his disposal to pick up results.
Having opted to make seven changes for the Carabao Cup clash, Emery has had a good look up close at various players in his squad, and while his assessment and analysis will be an ongoing process heading into this weekend’s encounter with Brighton, he will have plenty of time to go back and analyse over the World Cup break.
Speaking after the game on Thursday, both Emery and Watkins were positive about the settling-in period thus far and the initial signs working with each other as ultimately both parties are still getting used to how the other works.
“They are really good players with the mentality to work,” Emery said, as per VillaTV. “They are so attentive every day, tactically. We haven’t had a lot of days to work because we arrived one week ago, but they are very open to listening to everything we are giving them. In those two matches there were a lot more positive things than negative.”
Speaking to VillaTV, Watkins added: “Everyone’s buying into what he’s asking us to do. Collectively, we’re working hard as a team and we’re making a lot more passes and creating chances. I think there are positives to take, even though we’ve lost the game tonight.”
Given what we’ve seen over the last two games, that positivity from the pair is justified and we’ve undoubtedly started to show key changes and improvements compared to the latter stages of Steven Gerrard’s time at the helm.
However, it’s one thing being attentive, listening and buying into the tactical changes being demanded, and it’s another entirely to put that into practice successfully on the pitch and show consistency.
As we saw in the second meeting with Man Utd this week, we were caught out in the second half with the long ball over the top on several occasions after playing an excellent defensive line in the opening 45 minutes.
It’s clear what Emery wanted from his players and how he intended the team to be set up to frustrate Utd, but then it’s about executing that on the pitch and getting the job done, just as we did last Sunday.
With Emery figuring out which players can fit into his style and excel in the roles he wants them to play in, there are going to be bumps and setbacks in the process. However, for all the positivity, there will eventually come a crunch time for the Villa boss to decide who isn’t going to fit and be part of his plans, and there will potentially be some tough decisions to come.
That’s not even limited to fringe players either as while the likes of Robin Olsen and Ludwig Augustinsson struggled to make a positive impression when given a chance in midweek, neither did John McGinn.
With that in mind, we can all be positive about what we’ve seen and we are indeed moving in the right direction. However, the real test is not just listening and taking things on board, the players need to show that they can put it into action for 90 minutes week in and week out to prove they can be a successful part of Emery’s plans in the long-term future.