Express & Star

Unai Emery leaving it late over Aston Villa team selection

Unai Emery will leave it late before deciding on Villa’s team for Thursday’s Europa Conference League clash with AZ Alkmaar.

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Aston Villa manager Unai Emery during a press conference at the Bodymoor Heath Training Ground, Birmingham. Picture date: Wednesday November 8, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Villa. Photo credit should read: Jacob King/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

The boss is again expected to make changes from his regular Premier League starting XI as Villa hunt a win which would move them to the brink of qualifying for the knockout stages.

But Emery on Wednesday admitted he was still considering how much to tinker. Alex Moreno could play for the first time since May, while Jhon Duran is also available after missing the last two matches with a toe infection.

Villa host Fulham on Sunday before the international break and Emery said: “I have some doubts. I am not really clear in the starting XI.

“Why? Because I want to manage trying to impose our idea, style and structure and try to use different players in the XI.

“I am not thinking of Sunday but only tomorrow. Sometimes seven days before I know the starting XI for the next match but others I need the last moment. I am not clear about it.

“It is not because I doubt some players. No, it is because I want to be clinical in my decision.”

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Villa’s 4-1 win in Alkmaar a fortnight ago has put them in a strong position but Emery warned against under-estimating the visitors, for whom another defeat would likely leave their own qualification hopes hanging by a thread. He said: “It is a very important game for Alkmaar.

“For them it could be the difference between them staying in the competition or going out.

“For us, of course we have an advantage because we won there but tomorrow is like the second leg against them.

“Before we travelled to Holland we knew we could not afford another defeat and we were totally focussed on winning the match.

“Tomorrow we must have the same mentality.

“We have to respect them and put on the best structure defensively and offensively.

“The supporters have to know it is not going to be easy. I respect Alkmaar a lot.”