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There's 'Emery' chance Villa can achieve success under Unai's guidance.

It's the 20th October 2022, Villa have just been torn to pieces away at Fulham, and a dismayed Steven Gerrard strolled across the Craven Cottage pitch, knowing that his time was most likely up - and it was.

The feeling around the club was that of toxicity, and the fans were not happy with the poor form, and even more so; the lack of any sort of tactics, philosophy, or coaching on display. We were lacklustre, toothless, and exploitable.

When Gerrard was relieved of his duties on that night, the overarching feeling was that of relief around the fanbase. But for me, and many others too, there was concern about where we were heading, who we could bring in, and if the unbalanced nature of this squad was going to really cost us.

Fast forward 5 months, the feeling around the club couldn't be any more different. The pride has been restored in supporting this club again, and it's spearheaded by not only a top coach but a respectable, likeable, meticulous man; Unai Emery.

Comparing the data:

Before i get into the depths of life under Emery, i want to compare the statistics between the start of the season under Gerrard and the 14 games so far under Emery; whilst also trying to add context to the numbers aswell.

Of course, Emery has been in charge for 3 more games then Gerrard this season, so some of the numbers are slightly skewed, but we'll work with it. I'm also only using data from the Premier League games, and all the data is from SofaScore, so it may differ to data from other sites.

So, in the first 11 games of the season under Gerrard, we racked up 12 points out of 36. Winning only 2 games, drawing 3, and losing 6. Not only were the results poor, the football was turgid and sterile. The players looked devoid of guidance or logical structure. We actually averaged a higher average possession percentage under Gerrard this season by 0.5%, but it was amassed through passing side to side in the middle of the pitch, in a sort of horseshoe shape.

In those 11 games, we created an xG of 10.28 (scoring 7), and conceded an xG of 16.38 (actually conceding 17 goals); keeping only 2 clean sheets. It's evident that we were a disjointed side.

Let's move on to the 14 games under Emery. Of the 42 points available, we've picked up 26. Putting us in the European spots in the form table since Emery took over. 8 wins, 2 draws, and 4 losses make up the composition of those points. A much better showing.

In terms of xG, we've created a total of 19.9 (scoring 24), and conceded an xG of 23.17 (actually conceding 19), keeping 5 clean sheets on the way. As you can see, under Emery we're actually outperforming our xG, and clearly creating high-quality chances in games.

We're still conceding a high amount of chances/high-quality chances per game, but we're better at keeping them out the net. Whilst xG isn't a perfect model, and not appreciated by some, i find it a decent indicator.

The connection is back:

Away from the stats, the analysis, the tactics, all of that stuff - Unai Emery is a thoroughly decent man. He's polite in interviews, he's attentive of the fanbase (always pointing towards the importance of us in the media), and he's clearly a very good man manager.

He's managed to already build back up that connection between supporters, players, and the club in general. You can't underestimate what having that '12th man' can do. It can really make the difference in games where the side are struggling, or even doing well, but being pushed further to really take the game to the opposition.


In terms of his approach, we know Emery is a pragmatist. He likes control of the ball, he likes measured attacks, and he LOVES clean sheets. We regularly see us get bodies behind the ball in defence, but then spring forward with intent, and put plenty of bodies in the opposition half to try and punish them.

We're quite a fluid side, dependent on where the ball is on the pitch, and when we're defending. Typically, we're known for using a 442 under Emery, but it's not quite that simple.

In the first phase of build up play, we often set up in a 4222. The 'wide midfielders' tuck inside, ahead of the double pivot - creating the box midfield. The full backs stay wide, but deeper. The 2 centre forwards split slightly, occupying the opposition full backs more. This can create an outlet for the full back when he receives the ball, and then in turn the forward can find one of the interior players.

When we've breached the first line of the press and enter midfield, we often see our left back push further up, with the right back tucking in. Then the right sided forward (usually Bailey) drifts out to the right wing, whilst Ollie stays more central. The box midfield remains the same, but Luiz tends to be given freedom to support the attacks, too.

If Buendia starts as the supporting striker, we'll see him drop into midfield more centrally than Bailey does, and Cash will make up the width on the right when necessary, in much more of a '4231' shape.

Off the ball, we vary again. Against Bournemouth on Saturday, for example, we pressed higher up in a 442 shape, with Buendia and Watkins the furthest forward. As Bournemouth progressed into our half, we'd drop more into a 532, or a 622, and make it hard for them to find gaps.

The philosophy has really started to bed in with this squad, and the football we're now seeing is really good. There's control, there's intent, there's solidity - all things that we'd lacked for such a long time; and this isn't even 'Emery's team' yet.

Individual improvement:

The players have really stepped up to the mark under Unai, and we've seen drastic improvements from so many. The same squad that looked like they'd never been coached once in their life for large parts of the last year or so.

John McGinn has been reborn under Emery, finding a new level of control to go alongside his tireless work rate and drive. Douglas Luiz now has the freedom to create from deep aswell as push forward, in a structured side that gives him options on the ball.

Ollie Watkins has found form again, scoring 7 goals in those 14 league games, and being a handy outlet to pkay in behind the defence, or into his feet to hold the ball up. The list could go on and on about the improvements of individuals, and it's testament to the coaching that they're receiving. It's eased the pressure of spending big money during the January window, and perhaps the summer window too.

The future:

Villa seem to be going from strength to strength currently, and as i said earlier, these aren't 'Emery's players'. We're still short in some areas, and lack a bit of balance in terms of characteristics in the squad, but Emery has been able to work with what he's got, and really produce some fine form.

With all that in mind, when we've addressed some of these imbalances, and added some more quality to the squad, you can only imagine what we could be capable of in due course.

This ownership have lofty ambitions, and have proved they're willing to fund the charge up the table. With how things look currently, you'd think that we have the capability of achieving a level of success with Emery at the helm.

With the North Stand redevelopment, inner city academy, and potential overseas affiliates all on the horizon; you could forgive us Villa fans for being giddy with excitement at what we could be about to witness over the next few years.

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