While all eyes are on the World Cup this month, Aston Villa boss Unai Emery will be busy plotting his next moves ahead of our return to action.
Villa face Liverpool on Boxing Day in our next Premier League fixture, although we’ll have plenty to discuss during a winter camp and after our friendly against Villarreal next month.
Emery will have afforded himself and the squad a mini break this week to recharge before they reconvene and await the return of those at the World Cup, but there is still a significantly important to-do list waiting on his desk when he gets back to work.
Having made such a positive start as Villa boss with back-to-back Premier League wins, the early signs are exciting. We showed real quality in the win over Man Utd, while conversely we dug in and showed resilience and character at Brighton.
The hope now is that we can build on that moving forward and in that process, there are some key questions to be answered.
Reinforcements in January needed?
Emery has consistently reiterated that his primary focus now is to get an underperforming side playing at their full potential. The Spaniard is still getting to know his players and we can clearly see he has already made changes that are getting more out of them.
That process will likely continue over the next month as he works out who can and can’t fit into his style of play and put his ideas and principles into action on the pitch, and the likelihood is that he will identify areas in which we can strengthen.
Having made such an ambitious and exciting appointment, there is little doubt that the Villa ownership will now back Emery in the transfer market. Time will tell though if he feels as though he knows exactly where we need more and if we can land the specific targets that he wants in January.
Who will not feature in his plans
Simultaneously, Emery will also find out who is going to struggle to fit into his plans, and decisions will need to be made on whether or not they will stick around for another six months trying to change his mind or if it’s time to move individuals on.
There’s a sense that Emery will be fair with the players in terms of his expectations, and if they don’t form part of his plans he’ll likely give them the opportunity to find a solution elsewhere.
That will be an important part of moulding the squad into his own too, and there could be exits ahead of a busy summer as we make room for more signings.
Archer loan exit?
It was great to see Cameron Archer get minutes against Brighton, as the 20-year-old would have been itching for a chance to get on the pitch after the decision was made in the summer to keep him in the squad.
It’s hopefully a sign that Emery has identified his qualities and believes that he can be an important part of the team moving forward.
That said, if Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings – as expected – will play the majority of minutes, would a loan exit for Archer in January make sense? He needs playing time to gain experience and develop his game, and so that is something Emery could consider for him, and for others, in the group.
McGinn to keep armband?
After initially naming Emiliano Martinez as his captain with John McGinn on the bench for his first game in charge, Emery restored the latter to the starting XI for the last two outings and gave him back the armband.
Time will tell if he uses the break to establish his new captain and what process he’ll go with to allow the best candidate to emerge, as it’s probably a decision that he wants to see play out naturally to an extent too.
Martinez is arguably the best option given he’ll play every week and is an obvious leader and reference point on the pitch for us, and if he returns as a World Cup winner next month, who better to lead us out moving forward.
Does Coutinho have a role to play after return?
Philippe Coutinho’s more immediate focus is on recovering from his injury, and it’s hoped that over the break he is either available to Emery for the first games back or is closing in on a comeback.
Albeit limited in terms of options, the Villa boss has seemingly settled on his attacking options and they fit well into the system he wants to adopt thus far with Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia, Jacob Ramsey, Ollie Watkins and others impressing.
Coupled with Coutinho’s struggles this season, there are question marks over whether or not he will be able to force his way back into the Villa side. The quality he has shown over the years though can’t have entirely deserted him, and so it will be a fascinating challenge and decision-making process for Emery to determine if the Brazilian still has a big role to play for us.
If he doesn’t, a surprise exit could be on the cards. If he does, it will be intriguing to see what role and position Emery believes he can rediscover his best form in.