While Unai Emery has had a positive influence on a number of things at Aston Villa since he arrived, Ollie Watkins has undoubtedly been one of the biggest beneficiaries.
Albeit in a losing effort this past weekend, the 27-year-old was on the scoresheet yet again in our defeat to Man City at the Etihad on Sunday, showing a clinical edge to his play in front of goal that gave a clear indication that he is full of confidence.
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The strike in the video below made it three consecutive Premier League games with a goal for Watkins, while he now has four goals and two assists in eight league outings under Emery.
As with any player, there is still room for improvement, a point the Villa boss wanted to make at his press conference last week, but he’s undoubtedly getting more out of Watkins and putting him in areas where he can make a difference in the final third.
“Ollie Watkins, his best characteristic as a striker is to be close to scoring, to be close to assisting and to be close to fighting with the defence, as he is doing,” the Spaniard told the media. “He will need his teammates to help him achieve his objectives. At the beginning, each match, for me and for them, is an exam on how we can respond.
“At the moment, he is doing well but I want to be more demanding with him because I think he can play better than he is doing.
“When he is scoring and he is helping the team to win, we can be happy. Everyone can do more, and he is one of them.”
Watkins responded well to that demand from his boss as he struck in the second half in Manchester to spark faint hope of a possible fightback, and while the result largely overshadows any positives, he can be pleased that he’s finding consistency in his goalscoring.
Combined with his tireless work ethic, whether it’s providing movement off the ball and making runs into the channels to offer an option, holding play up to bring others into the game or pressing and applying pressure on the opposition, his presence up top has been a key factor in our improved form under Emery thus far.
And yet, despite making another important contribution, the England forward was highly critical of himself in his post-match interview, as he conceded that he felt as though he should have done better in the build-up to the first two City goals to prevent them from having clear opportunities.
In truth, there were many Villa players on the pitch who would have felt the same way, particularly in the first half, and so while it’s encouraging to hear Watkins insist that he can do better, collectively we have big improvements to make still.
An important factor that Emery must maintain now though is the form of his first-choice frontman, putting the pieces around him to ensure he has the service to feed off and continue scoring regularly, while also playing to his strengths and putting him in positions on the pitch that he can occupy to be a consistent threat.
Jhon Duran looks a handful in his two brief appearances already and so he’ll hopefully share that responsibility with Watkins to lead the line in the coming months, and based on what we saw on Sunday, the pair could also thrive together as a pairing in what could be an exciting development for Emery.
Clinical. Three straight games on the scoresheet, four goals and two assists in eight league games under Emery.#avfc #UTVpic.twitter.com/qy5gFOL04t
— Talk Villa (@thetalkvilla) February 12, 2023