A new era begins at Aston Villa on Sunday as Unai Emery takes charge of his first game as we prepare to face Man Utd.
The new Villa boss has been busy at Bodymoor Heath this week settling into his new job and preparing his new squad for the upcoming challenge, and so it can’t have been easy for him in what would have been a hectic few days as he was also unveiled to the media.
In what is Villa’s most ambitious and high-profile appointment in years, Emery arrives with the hope of overseeing long-term success and so while an immediate impact would be more than welcome, the focus will be on his long-term influence and how he changes an underperforming side.
It’s difficult to predict what decisions he will make given he will have made his own assessments in training this week as to what system best suits the players at his disposal and which personnel have earned a start this weekend, but there are certain takeaways we can use to put together a potential Villa XI on Sunday.
Emery style, system to suit certain individuals
There was no mention of Emiliano Martinez during Emery’s response to team news for the weekend in his press conference on Friday, and so assuming he has cleared any additional concussion protocol after his blow to the head against Newcastle Utd last time out, the Argentine international will take his place between the posts.
Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings will hope to keep their respective places, albeit Emery knows Calum Chambers from their time together at Arsenal and so he could be inclined to go with a player he knows more about on an individual and personal level in his first game.
Lucas Digne got valuable minutes at Newcastle, but as he works his way back to full fitness and match sharpness, Ashley Young will hope to keep his place. That said, given Digne’s energy to get up and down the left flank, he could be in line to return to the Villa XI.
The midfield is where things really start to become fascinating. Assuming Emery liked what he saw when interim boss Aaron Danks switched to a 4-2-3-1 in the last two games, we’ll see the midfield pivot continue. Douglas Luiz is in a strong position to start, but the spot next to him is arguably up for grabs.
John McGinn would be the ‘safe’ option despite his poor recent form which led to him being dropped by Danks, while there is a question mark over Leander Dendoncker not in terms of his impact after coming into the side as he has impressed for the most part, but whether or not he has the characteristics that Emery likes in midfield.
The Belgian can be physically imposing but he doesn’t arguably have the speed and urgency to press and apply pressure as quickly as others, and after reports in midweek about how there is a clean slate for everyone under Emery and that he rates Morgan Sanson after crossing paths in France, could there be a shock return to the fold for the Frenchman?
He offers technical quality and passing range on the ball and aggression and tenacity out of possession. An ideal combination for the expected style Emery will look to implement.
Further, the Villa boss confirmed to the media on Friday that Boubacar Kamara is close to returning, but after a lengthy spell out with a knee injury, it seems unlikely he’ll come straight back into the starting line-up.
Emiliano Buendia is another player who should hopefully be a perfect fit for Emery given what he offers in both phases of the game, and so a central role for the Argentine could be on the cards. Leon Bailey, Ollie Watkins and Philippe Coutinho will all hope to get an immediate chance to impress on the wings, and could Cameron Archer be in contention up top instead of Danny Ings?
There is a lot of mystery and intrigue over what we’ll get from Emery against Man Utd. On one hand, he might not want to change too much and take a good look at what was in place before him from a closer viewpoint. On the other, he has his own ideas, philosophy and style of play that he will want to implement so why not start immediately.
Either way, there is real excitement and optimism heading into this difficult assignment, and it’s hoped Emery and Villa can make a positive start to life together.
Possible Aston Villa XI vs Man Utd: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Digne; Luiz, McGinn; Bailey, Buendia, Watkins, Ings.
— Talk Villa (@thetalkvilla) November 6, 2022