Express & Star

Analysis: Chaos replaces control to leave Unai Emery seeking lessons from Aston Villa defeat

It was almost amusing, in the aftermath, to recall Unai Emery stressing before Saturday his desire for Villa to develop greater control.


Instead, he got chaos.

Villa 2 Leicester 4 was probably the barmiest match in B6 since the 5-5 thriller with Nottingham Forest more than four years ago.

The hosts created more than enough chances to win but ended up beaten having gifted their opponent numerous equally golden opportunities, the majority of which were snaffled.

In short, this wasn’t Emery had in mind at all. Working out where it fits in the context of an otherwise encouraging few months since the Spaniard took charge isn’t exactly straightforward.

The knee-jerk, Saturday night reaction was to lambast Villa’s slack defending, wayward finishing and bemoan the passing of an excellent chance to leap into the top half of the Premier League table.

A more considered view, hinted at by Villa’s head coach after the game and which may gain more credence in time, is such brutal experiences are a necessary evil of building a team for success in the long-term.

It may equally be the case Saturday was one of those wonderfully random occasions which happen from time to time and make football such an engrossing, popular sport. No matter how meticulously you plan, sometimes the game has other ideas. Certainly, at first glance, this performance was the antithesis of those produced by Emery’s men in recent weeks.

The team of apparently ruthless closers who had not conceded an equaliser in seven league matches under the Spaniard tossed away two leads in the first half. Villa probably committed more individual errors in 90 minutes than in those previous games combined.

And yet on closer inspection, there were some recurring themes to pick out from the debris.

The most obvious of those was a goal conceded when trying to play out from the back.

Boubacar Kamara, whose wrong turn when collecting a pass from Emi Martinez inside his own box allowed James Maddison to equalise within three minutes of Ollie Watkins opening the scoring, wasn’t the first player to be suffer embarrassment as Villa adapt to Emery’s methods.

The goal had echoes of that conceded in the opening seconds at Brighton and – more pertinently – Stevenage’s equaliser to set in motion last month’s calamitous FA Cup exit, when Leander Dendoncker was caught out in almost exactly the same position.

The bad news for supporters of a nervous disposition is Emery won’t be abandoning his tactic. On balance, nor should he. Opposing boss Brendan Rodgers was correct when he observed post-match how the strategy works far more often than it fails, albeit mistakes are colossally magnified.

On the other hand, you have to pick your moments. Easy as it might be in hindsight, Martinez probably shouldn’t have played short with three Leicester players in close attendance. There was also the game situation to consider, with Villa having taken an early lead against opponents who had taken just one point from five matches since the World Cup break.

But then this performance truly was a textbook example of how not to play against a struggling team. Kamara would be caught again in his own half, seconds before the break, which led to Tete putting the visitors ahead for the first time, minutes after Kelechi Iheanacho had been left unmarked to cancel out Villa’s second advantage provided by Harry Souttar’s own goal.

Despite all the undoubted progress under Emery, it is also true his ideas are proving harder to implement at home than on the road, where Villa have won all three league matches and conceded only one goal.

Though this was only the second league defeat of his reign at Villa Park, his team were also fortunate to get away with giving up big chances in the draw with Wolves and win over Leeds.

For a 25-minute period of the second half on Saturday, after Iheanacho and Tete had gone close to extending the visitors’ lead, they at least provided an example of what the head coach wants to achieve. Villa dominated possession, neutralised opposing attacks with their high line and forced the Foxes deeper and deeper into their own half.

The problem was the goal they constantly threatened and which might have swung momentum decisively in their favour never arrived. Though the manner of those conceded meant the immediate post-match focus would be on the defensive errors, a return of just four efforts on target from 19 attempts on goal was also a significant factor in the result.

Instead, another mistake at the back sealed their fate, Alex Moreno missing Harvey Barnes’ ball over the top, allowing Dennis Praet to become the second player to round Martinez and slot into an empty net.

Emery later emphasised the importance of the bigger picture and just as the head coach was preaching caution after previous victories, neither will he be ripping his the blueprint after one bad day at the office, no matter how ragged it might have been.

Villa now face the unenviable task of attempting to extend their perfect away record under his guidance away at Manchester City next Sunday, before a visit from league leaders Arsenal the following weekend.

Those fixtures always looked like being the true test of a resurgent Villa’s mettle. Instead, Saturday delivered a more perfect example of why no-one should have been getting carried away.

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