Express & Star

Crystal Palace v Aston Villa: No time to relax as Unai Emery planning for next season

Tomorrow might offer Villa’s players the chance to celebrate Champions League qualification with supporters – but for Unai Emery, the work toward next season has already begun.


The head coach made sure he enjoyed the moment when Tottenham’s defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday night confirmed Villa’s return to Europe’s elite club competition after a four decade absence, which rather conveniently arrived right in the middle of the club’s end of season award ceremony.

But while players were granted a well-earned two days off to relax and savour the success, Emery and his staff were back in at Bodymoor Heath on Wednesday plotting out their next move.

The plan for this summer will become clearer next week following talks with Villa’s owners but as Emery has said several times before, he is not in the business of “wasting time” even if the season finale at Crystal Palace is now largely pressure free.

“I don’t like to stop,” he said. “I don’t like to think about how much we have done. I think about now and tomorrow.

“Always my idea is to be better tomorrow than today. Only I can wait and see my past to use my experiences to help myself to go again – not to talk about how much we have been successful.

“I want to create something more. We were a little bit excited on Tuesday, but my mind on Wednesday was now. Now the challenge is next year. We have to work starting from now to be stronger next year.”

Tomorrow’s match is Villa’s 56th of what Emery himself has described as a “marathon” campaign and the first which has almost nothing riding on it. It is probably the first dead rubber the club have been involved in since hosting the Eagles in a 1-1 draw at Villa Park two years ago this month.

For Ollie Watkins, there is the incentive of finding the goal which would make him the first Villa player since Peter Withe to hit 20 in a top flight campaign. Otherwise, Emery will simply demand his team give a strong account of themselves against arguably the Premier League’s most in-form team outside of the top two.

Under Oliver Glasner, Palace have taken 16 of the last 18 points available, beating West Ham, Newcastle and Manchester United along the way.

“Crystal Palace are playing amazing, they are playing really, really well,” said Emery. “They are in their best moment of the season.”

Matty Cash and Youri Tielemans (both calf) are out.

n Emery wants the Premier League to keep VAR claiming the technology is usually “completely fair”.

The future of VAR is in the spotlight after Wolves put forward a proposal for clubs to vote on scrapping it at next month’s Premier League AGM. Newcastle boss Eddie Howe and outgoing Liverpool head coach Jurgen Klopp have both voiced their opposition to VAR, with the latter saying he would vote to get rid of it if given the option.

But Emery is hoping it says, believing it helps referees and makes the game fairer.

He said: “I believe in VAR. I want VAR. The referees need VAR. I want to completely keep it.”

When asked if he could understand some of the frustration towards how the technology is used, Emery replied: “VAR has to improve as well but it is fair always.

“Sometimes they can make mistakes, like me, like everybody. If you analyse deeply, it is completely fair. Sometimes there can be mistakes, but usually it is completely fair. In England, VAR is being, more or less, always right.”