Express & Star

Matt Maher: Aston Villa are on the fast track to success under Unai Emery

The question put to Unai Emery last month felt both extraordinary yet fair.

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Villa have made rapid progress on the field under the leadership of Unai Emery and now the rest of the club is trying to play catch-up

Extraordinary because 18 months ago it would have felt a laughable concept. Fair because in the intervening period, Emery’s work has made anything seem possible.

Can you win the Premier League with Villa?

Emery, as is often his method when receiving a question he doesn’t particularly fancy, didn’t really give a clear answer. Later in the press conference, the first after Villa had taken up the option to extend his contract by an extra year following unwanted interest from Bayern Munich, the Spaniard expressed pride in his achievements so far, while also stressing the difficulty on improving on the heights already hit this season.

It contrasted rather sharply with some of the bold pronouncements by others at the club that same week, talk of “kicking down doors” and “historic levels of greatness”. It is not that Emery isn’t fiercely ambitious. His targets are far higher than he would ever admit publicly.

“We want the giant running and conquering, not only awakening,” he wrote in his programme notes ahead of the Europa Conference League semi-final first leg against Olympiacos. It is not the only time he has been emotive on that particular page.

At the same time, there has been an effort to inject some realism into the dream.

You could see it after the 2-2 draw with Chelsea, when Villa’s head coach largely rejected reflections on his team letting slip a two-goal lead to stress the “fantastic” achievement of securing Europa League qualification.