Express & Star

Aston Villa set to face familiar foe in Europa Conference semi-final

Villa supporters may recognise at least one familiar face in an Olympiacos team which has experienced one of this season’s most extraordinary European campaigns.

Daniel Podence of Wolverhampton Wanderers celebrates (Photo by Jack Thomas - WWFC/Wolves via Getty Images)

Daniel Podence scored in front of the Holte End on his most recent visit to Villa Park while playing for Wolves last season and the winger, currently on loan from Molineux in Greece, is among the biggest threats Unai Emery’s team must diffuse in Thursday’s Europa Conference League semi-final first leg.

For Villa’s head coach, meanwhile, the man in the opposing dugout needs no introduction. Jose Luis Mendilibar is a fellow Basque, against whom Emery has locked horns on 13 previous occasions when both managed in Spain.

“He started like me. We were always playing (against each other) in the championship in Spain,” said Emery. “I have always respected him because he is very competitive and a very passionate coach, like me. He deserves to have this opportunity in Europe.”

Mendilibar became Olympiacos’ third head coach of the season when he replaced Carlos Carvahal in February and is aiming to repeat his feat of 12 months ago, when he took charge of Sevilla at a similar point of the season and led them to glory in the Europa League beating Manchester United, Juventus and finally Jose Mourinho’s Roma in the final.

The 63-year-old, who had never managed outside Spain before, has already done wonders in reviving a campaign which looked lost when Carvahal was sacked after just 62 days in charge. One of his first achievements was to inspire Olympiacos, who began the season in the Europa League, to the biggest comeback in their 99-year history when they overturned a 4-1 first leg deficit to beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 7-5 on aggregate in the Conference League last-16.