Express & Star

Improving Nicolo Zaniolo told to seize his moment at Aston Villa

Unai Emery has told Nicolo Zaniolo “this is your moment” and urged Villa’s other attacking players to step up in the absence of Ollie Watkins.


Top scorer Watkins is unavailable for the first time in nearly 18 months due to a hamstring injury, meaning Zaniolo could be handed a first Premier League start since early December at Manchester City on Wednesday.

The Italy international has impressed when coming off the bench in recent matches against West Ham and Wolves and Emery has been encouraged by the improvement of a player who struggled through the first half of the season.

“I am very happy with him,” Emery said. “Now is his moment. At the beginning of the season it was very difficult for him. The adaptation was tough, some individual circumstances were really difficult for him.

“We were here always to try and support him. His performances as well when he was playing were not like he was expecting or we were expecting.”

“The last two months, something has changed in him. He is getting better for us. The last matches he is playing more, getting better performances as well.”

Zaniolo joined Villa on a season-long loan from Galatasaray last August after Emi Buendia was ruled out for the campaign with a serious knee injury.

The 24-year-old experienced a testing period off the field when he was questioned by police over an Italian betting scandal. His goal in last month’s 1-1 draw at West Ham was just his second in the league for Villa.

Emery continued: “Now, we will need him and hopefully he can keep the same performances and the same ambition he is showing us. He is really wishing now to help the team and hopefully this won’t stop until the end of the season.

“I told him: ‘Nicolo, even if you are playing with us next year, even if you are going back Galatasaray, even if you are going back to Italy. I want the best of you and only I want good attitude you are showing now’.”

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