Unai Emery will learn plenty more about his Aston Villa squad over the next month as he looks to put out his strongest side after the World Cup break.
Villa return to action against Liverpool on Boxing Day, and with a winter camp and friendlies lined up to continue to work with the group and make improvements, it’s hoped that we can build on our back-to-back Premier League wins prior to the break.
Looking slightly further ahead though, what is Emery’s strongest Villa XI before considering potential January transfer targets? We’ve seen him make plenty of changes across the three games he has overseen thus far – mostly for the Carabao Cup game vs Man Utd – while key individuals will return from injury next year too.
Time will tell if there are significant new arrivals in the New Year as although Emery has been focused on improving what he described as an underperforming side, the opportunity to stamp his mark on the group with his own signings will be a natural process of continuing our progression.
No question over Martinez, Carlos over who?
When fit and available, there is no doubt that Emiliano Martinez takes his place between the posts.
It’s arguably a similar case in the full-back positions – but also form dependent – with Matty Cash and Lucas Digne emerging as Emery’s first choices given the energy, defensive ability and attacking threat that they provide.
The big decision at some stage next year in terms of the defence will come when Diego Carlos returns from injury. The Brazilian seems like an ideal fit for Emery given his aggressive and physical style of defending combined with his composure and ability in possession, and so the expectation is that he will come back into the XI, but at whose expense?
The biggest issue for both Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings has been consistency. Both have looked solid at times but that has been broken up by dips in form or costly mistakes. With his aerial strength and leadership qualities, there’s a strong argument to suggest that Mings should keep his spot, but Konsa does perhaps tick more of the same boxes for Emery that Carlos does and there could be a good balance between that duo as they complement each other’s strengths well.
Best midfield duo?
Boubacar Kamara is surely nailed on to start when he’s available for selection. His influence in both phases of the game has been vital for us, and so whether it’s breaking up play and protecting the backline or using his technical quality to help us keep the ball and build play, he is a pillar of the side.
Alongside him, it’s Douglas Luiz’s spot to lose. Leander Dendoncker has impressed in his last few appearances, while we’ve still got the likes of Morgan Sanson and Marvelous Nakamba available in the squad.
However, Luiz looks to have a good understanding with Kamara and as a pivot, they cover each other well and give us enough quality in that area of the pitch to control the tempo and possession in a game to give us a solid foundation.
Most potent attacking quartet?
Danny Ings, John McGinn and Philippe Coutinho will have something to say about this part, but it did feel as though we struck a great balance with Leon Bailey, Emiliano Buendia, Jacob Ramsey and Ollie Watkins leading the way.
With pace, movement, directness, creativity and invention in the final third behind Watkins who can feed off that service as we play to his strengths more, it looks to be a good mix that can be effective and win games for us.
Further, there’s plenty of energy there to press aggressively out of possession if we choose to try and dominate games, while we’ve seen the ability of the group to successfully shift into different formations during games as we set up in a 4-4-2 off the ball vs Man Utd in the league meeting while playing as a 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2 in possession.
That’s not to say Emery won’t switch things up and bring the trio named above into the side at times, as they will have a role to play and can certainly play their way into a bigger role with their form, as we saw last time out at Brighton.
However, we saw a freshness, more direction and a real style to our play emerge with the quartet included below, and so time will tell if they get the chance to build on our good start after the break or if Ings and McGinn in particular – with Coutinho working his way back from injury – can cement their place in the side instead.
Would this be our strongest XI or would you make alterations? Follow us on Twitter @thetalkvilla for more discussion.
Villa’s strongest XI? – Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Carlos, Digne; Kamara, Luiz; Ramsey, Buendia, Bailey; Watkins.