Aston Villa secured a brilliant 3-1 win over Man Utd on Sunday, as Unai Emery’s reign got off to the perfect start.
The 51-year-old took his first training session on Wednesday morning at Bodymoor Heath, and yet despite limited time to get to know his new players at close quarters and to devise a successful game plan, he managed to do exactly that this past weekend.
It can’t have been an easy situation for him, as although he would have certainly begun his own personal preparations immediately after being appointed, he didn’t have his coaching staff with him until later in the week and so it was a magnificent effort from all concerned to produce the performance we saw.
While the expectation was always that he would bring improved tactical nous and coaching ability, few would have predicted that he would get his ideas across so quickly and that the players would carry out those instructions in such a disciplined manner.
Whether it was on the ball or off it, as seen in the images and analysis below, there was much to enjoy about Emery’s early influence on his Villa side.
Villa’s set up in possession
The most notable aspect of our performance early on was the structure and composure shown by the players right across the pitch, fundamentals that have been lacking.
Everyone appeared to know their respective role and how to find space on the pitch to exploit Man Utd’s weaknesses. It always appeared as though whoever was in possession had an option, whether it was a simple pass to alleviate pressure or one that broke through the lines and set us on the attack.
Add in the flair and skills shown by the likes of Emi Buendia and Leon Bailey, and some of the football played was thoroughly enjoyable.
It began in defence, with Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa splitting wide of Emi Martinez, dragging Cristiano Ronaldo and others forward to close them down, while Lucas Digne and Matty Cash hogged the sidelines to create width and spaces in the middle.
Both Douglas Luiz and Leander Dendoncker dropped deep to pick up the ball, and so we had our more technically gifted individuals getting possession and building our play.
As seen in the image below, our front four effectively got into one vs one situations as Luiz brings the ball out of our half, with Cash creating space for him to penetrate and push forward by dragging his marker wide with him.
We saw that time and time again, giving our midfield duo time and space on the ball to make quick passes into our attacking talent, as it also set up dangerous counter-attacking scenarios that caused Utd real problems.
We saw that with the third goal in particular after Ollie Watkins drifted wide as he did often in the game, took his man on and attacked down the left flank.
Importantly, we continued to get numbers in the box as Bailey, Buendia and Jacob Ramsey all offered an option, and while Bailey and Buendia initially drag defenders towards the goal with their runs to create space in behind them, it was the onrushing Ramsey who took full advantage and produced a top finish.
It comes back to the structure and players knowing the areas in which to be, as well as working well together and showing chemistry by playing intricate passes or killer balls like we saw from Ramsey for Bailey’s goal and this one from Watkins.
From an attacking perspective, it was a really impressive effort from a group who have struggled for goals this season, but showed their potential against Brentford. If Emery can maximise the quality at his disposal and find a way for them to consistently hurt teams, we can be a really dangerous side for any defence in the Premier League.
Villa defensive shape vs Man Utd
This was arguably the more impressive aspect of our performance as defensively we were committed, disciplined and organised throughout, with Utd’s goal coming from an unfortunate deflection.
Martinez made two crucial saves in the first half, but other than that, it didn’t really feel as though we were in serious danger as we frustrated the visitors as they couldn’t break us down.
As seen in the image below, we switched into a 4-4-2 out of possession, with Buendia and Ramsey putting in brilliant defensive shifts for the team, while Dendoncker and Luiz did well in midfield too in breaking up Utd’s possession and rhythm.
The backline was excellent, and Bailey and Watkins did their part as well as we pressed from the front at times when deciding not to fully drop back. Utd threatened with a quick switch of play, and so that is something Emery will look at, but having got the organisation, structure, positional awareness, tactical set-up and discipline spot on, it resulted in such an impressive start both from the new Villa boss and his players.