Express & Star

A September sub sparked Aston Villa star's resurgence

Unai Emery has revealed how a September substitution and pep talk helped spark Leon Bailey’s remarkable Villa resurgence.


The winger has been among the standout players in Emery’s high-flying team with the Villa boss yesterday confirming he is close to signing a new contract.

It completes a considerable transformation in fortunes for Bailey, who was touted for a possible exit last summer having struggled for consistency in the previous two seasons following a £25million move from Bayer Leverkusen.

Emery believes the turning point came following Villa’s 3-0 defeat at Liverpool in early September when Bailey replaced an injured Diego Carlos off the bench in the first half but was then taken off himself midway through the second period.

The boss made a point of speaking to him after the international break which followed.

He explained: “I was thinking every day of him about this change. It was not me trying to punish him or make him feel bad, it was tactical, but he can think it was a little bit hard for him.

“I explained it to him: ‘No Leon, I want more. We need more of you. You have to be consistent and be consistent and focus more than you are doing because it is not enough’. “His commitment has improved and his focus working every day harder has improved.”

Bailey is among the most productive players in the Premier League this season, averaging a goal or assist every 78 minutes.

“His way here, adding his skills, scoring goals, assists, has improved,” continued Emery.

“We decided more or less one month ago to extend his contract. We had to be very demanding with the players and if they want to increase their level and their demands like the team is doing, then it has to change.

"We decided more or less one month ago to extend his contract. I think he is going to sign."

Emery will hope Bailey, Villa’s second top scorer behind Ollie Watkins with 10 goals in all competitions, can fire again on Wednesday when they host Chelsea in an FA Cup fourth round replay.

The boss named his strongest possible line-up for the first meeting at Stamford Bridge and is likely to do so again, having yesterday bristled when asked whether he would prefer to win the FA Cup or finish top four in the Premier League.

“It’s no way. This question, no way,” he said. “We have to focus. I don’t know where the opportunity is but you have to try and get opportunities and in the Premier League, it is 38 matches, 38 matches!

“You can make a mistake and you can react. In the FA Cup, it is the same but it is only one opportunity. It’s tomorrow. One or the other? No, I prefer tomorrow.

“We are in February and it is a great opportunity tomorrow. Very difficult, but great opportunity and only tomorrow. Then, after the match we can be happy or not. Then, we are going to face another competition.”