What we’ve learned so far under Unai Emery after Villa upturn

With two wins in two Premier League games, Unai Emery has made a positive start at Aston Villa as he eyes further improvement moving forward.

Having taken charge of his first training session at Bodymoor Heath just under a fortnight ago, Emery has led Villa to crucial back-to-back league wins as well as our first away win of the season to move us up to 12th place in the table.

READ MORE: How Emery’s influence has had positive early impact on key Villa star

While there was disappointment in the Carabao Cup, the early period of his reign was always going to be a challenge for the Spanish tactician given the limited time he has had to work with the players, and so to secure wins over Man Utd and Brighton was an impressive achievement to kick-start his tenure.

Emery will now relish the opportunity to work with the players not called up to the World Cup in the coming weeks to get his ideas and principles across and work on improvements, but there are positive signs already and his influence can be seen.

Defensive organisation, structure

The players themselves have praised our resilience and solidity in defence, particularly after the win at Brighton, and it certainly appears as though we’re now harder to break down.

Not only is the effort there, but more importantly every player on the pitch knows their role out of possession and has the positional awareness to be in place to break attacks up or put pressure on the opposition if we choose to press.

We’ve also seen Villa adopt a high backline which has caught our opponents out offside 14 times in three games, and while there is still room for improvement in that department as we were caught out with the long ball over the top at Old Trafford, it just shows how well drilled and organised Emery has got his team already.

Fast-paced attacks and counter-attacking

As we saw with Leon Bailey’s goal at home against Man Utd in the league and Ollie Watkins’ effort away to Utd in the Cup, we’re starting to push the ball forward quicker and get our attacking players into goalscoring positions.

There is more structure and direction to our attacking play, and once again, the players appear to have more certainty and are more comfortable in their respective roles and areas on the pitch.

Whether it’s the midfield pivot playing quick, intricate passes into the feet of our forward players as everyone seems to now have an option with improved movement off the ball, or utilising the attributes of individuals such as Watkins in running the channels and stretching defences, a lot of our play just makes more sense now.

Emery is playing to the strengths of the players at his disposal, and while not everything is perfect – and probably won’t ever be – we’ve seen some players who struggled start to show more of a threat and consistency.

Tactical flexibility on and off the ball

Villa have set up in a 4-2-2-2 on the ball in games and shifted into a 4-4-2 out of possession to create two solid blocks with minimal space in between the lines to frustrate our opponents.

We’ve also seen it morph into a 4-2-3-1 and we even started with two frontmen against Utd in the League Cup. Emery’s tactical flexibility is not only making us more dynamic and exciting to watch, but it’s also giving opposition managers a headache in trying to deal with that and adjust to our tweaks.

We were far too rigid under Steven Gerrard and too predictable in what we were trying to do. That in turn lead to some difficult viewing and lack of goals, and although we defended well at times under the former Villa boss, it was never really convincing to suggest we were making progress and establishing any sort of identity, which is of paramount importance when trying to build for long-term success.

Immediate connection with Villa fans

Emery has started all three of his post-match interviews with a message for the fans by thanking them for their support.

While it may seem like an obvious thing to do and doesn’t necessarily deserve additional credit, it’s a nice touch and it rebuilds that sense of connection between the fans and both the manager and players.

Results will ultimately dictate how successful and popular he is amongst the Villa faithful, but there is a foundation in place already in terms of the likeability factor and having a manager who leads by example on the touchline with passion as opposed to having too many voices around him and looking devoid of ideas sat on the bench.

Emery has ticked a lot of the right boxes so far and there is a real sense of excitement around the club again. It’s hoped he can build on this fine start and continue to oversee improvement and development in the second half of the campaign.