Unai Emery Discusses His Villa Objectives and Defensive tatics with priority

Unai Emery’s Aston Villa Ambition

Unai Emery’s objectives have constantly shifted within the short period he’s been at Aston Villa. Initially, the priority was to avoid relegation, which then evolved into aiming for a top-half finish. Eventually, Emery set his sights on European football, a goal that his team achieved by the end of the 2022/23 season.

During the Premier League Summer Series in the USA, Emery revealed the next stage of his ambitions with Villa.

“We have to be candidates in Europe, we have to be candidates to be in the top six in the Premier League,” said Emery. “We have to be candidates to be fighting to get a semi-final or final in the FA Cup or Carabao Cup.”

Ultimately, his goal is to do “something important” next season, while long-term he states his objective is to “win a trophy”.

“Of course, we need the help of the owners, the supporters, the players and everybody together to try to do it,” he added.

Defensive Experiments and Centre-Back Partnerships

While showcasing moments of brilliance in their attacking play and overall possession during matches in the USA, Villa faced concerns about conceding goals, after shipping three in both their games against Newcastle United and Brentford. However, the team’s experimentation with the back four provides some context for their defensive lapses.

Emery’s choice of center-back pairing remains a central intrigue of the preseason. Although the Tyrone Mings and Ezra Konsa duo performed solidly last season, there will be obvious pressures on Emery to utilise the La Liga duo of Diego Carlos and Pau Torres, which cost the owners over £60m combined. Also, he hardly signed Torres in this window to sit on the bench.

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“Now we have four centre-backs, I think we have really, really strong centre-backs,” reflected Emery in the states.

“We are going to play usually with two but sometimes we can use three and now is the moment to practice.”

“We are now ready to try to practice something different, like we did on Wednesday against Fulham; and on Sunday as well.”

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Emery’s Fluid Defensive System

It was evident in the games against Fulham and Brentford, that playing three centre-backs with a forward-thinking full-back, saw Villa set up as a four when defending, and transitioning into a back three when the full-backs joined the attack in the opposition half. Against Fulham, we saw Ezra Konsa playing as a hybrid right-back/centre-back and Lucas Digne as the left-back, while against Brentford, it was Pau Torres turn to play as a hybrid centre-back/left-back, with Matty Cash playing right-back.

“Offensively we were holding the line high and then trying to keep ball possession like we were practicing,” said Emery, implying that the full-back in a more advance role helps maintain possession higher up.

The fluid system of changing from a four to a three and back again, wasn’t on-point across the 90 minutes in the USA, when executing Emery’s highline. Both Newcastle and Brentford broke it and scored, as a result. Obviously, it will take some bedding down, before the Premier League season starts, but the team have been quick learners under Emery so far.

Additional Defensive Personnel?

In terms of additional defensive personnel, Emery suggested in the USA that he had no intentions to get any other goalkeepers in and upgrade Robin Olsen. There was a further hint, the club may not consider another right-back as priority either. Despite claiming, “I want two players for each position.”

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First of all, they have the option of Ezri Konsa playing this centre-back/right-back hybrid role, and secondly, Emery made reference to an existing Villa player being an option in the position.

“We have as well Calum Chambers, he can play as a centre-back. But I envisage him now more as a right-back and as a midfielder,” confirmed Villa’s Head Coach.

As the team continues to experiment with defensive strategies and player roles, the upcoming friendlies against Lazio and Valencia present opportunities for further development. Positive results and defensive evolvement there, will certainly raise excitement in terms of Emery achieving the next stage of his Villa ambition.