Express & Star

Liverpool v Aston Villa preview: Villa on Red alert ahead of toughest test yet

Unai Emery’s fantastic first six months might have earned a nomination for manager of the season but the Villa boss knows it may require the best performance of his reign to get a result at Liverpool.


Emery was one of six managers yesterday included on the Premier League’s shortlist after transforming Villa from a team fearing relegation to one which enters the final two weekends still in with a shout of qualifying for European football.

Their hopes, however, may yet rest on halting Liverpool’s charge toward the Champions League places.

After a season which has fallen some way short of their own expectations, Emery believes the Reds have looked like the “normal Liverpool” during a seven-match winning streak which has put them back in with a chance of a top-four finish.

Their margin for error remains small, just as it does for Villa in their pursuit of either a Europa League or Conference League spot. The latter is now the most realistic target, with Emery’s men effectively needing to better Tottenham’s results over the final two matches to snare seventh position in the table.

“We will face the most difficult challenge of the season on Saturday,” he said. “We will try and stop them. They have power.

“We must keep ball possession, good positioning and win our duels against them. We have to try to give our best performance being competitive away.”

Emery believes the challenge of facing Liverpool in their current form will also be beneficial to Villa’s long-term development, adding: “We need to enjoy playing, not about pressure.

“I want to prepare and enjoy the match. I want to be clinical. It’s always very difficult.

“We have to practice for moments like that – we want to take the level that they have now, Liverpool. It’s a high level. They are now playing like the normal Liverpool now with Klopp.”

Emery, meanwhile, claims he is only getting started at Villa after being nominated for the manager of the season prize.

The Spaniard has taken 45 points from his 23 league matches in charge after arriving when Villa sat just above the relegation zone.

But the boss believes this is only the beginning. Asked about his nomination, he said: “We always like trophies or recognition of our work. But I am trying to stay focused every day, don’t relax.

“We have only been here 10 per cent of the time I want to be here, being strong and trying to improve our project and to get our objective. Now, I am proud of everyone here.”

Playmaker Philippe Coutinho has, meanwhile, been ruled out of the season’s final two matches through injury.

The Brazil international has spent two extended spells on the sidelines with hamstring problems this term and has not featured since the 4-2 defeat at Arsenal in February.