Aston Villa, the surprise awakening of a sleeping giant who shakes up the Premier League

The Birmingham side, coached by Unai Emery, are third in the Premier League after beating Manchester City and Arsenal in a week.

France Télévisions – Sports Editorial



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Former PSG coach Unai Emery surrounded by Aston Villa players.  (AFP)

Thanks to Netflix, everyone now knows the name of the Birmingham gang that terrorized England in the late 19th century. Long gone, the Peaky Blinders have nevertheless found footballing heirs. Because this season, the sensation team of the Premier League is not one of the usual big names, but Aston Villa. Coached by former PSG coach Unai Emery, the Villans are second in the championship after a week which pushed them into the deep end.

Fallers of Manchester City on Wednesday (1-0), Tricolores teammates Moussa Diaby and Boubacar Kamara did it again, Saturday December 9, against Arsenal (1-0). This success, the fifteenth in a row at home in the league (a record in the club’s history), allows them to take third place, one point behind the Gunners, and two behind Liverpool. And therefore to position themselves as an unexpected candidate for the title after 16 days of the Premier League.

Rise and fall of a flagship English football team

This victory against Arsenal also sounds like revenge for Unai Emery. Sacked by the Gunners 4 years ago, on November 29, 2019, the Spanish coach returned to England last fall, through the back door, after finding a smile again in Spain on the Villarreal bench. Appointed to Aston Villa in October 2022, the former PSG technician took the Birmingham club from 14th to 7th place in the Premier League (the club’s best ranking since 2009-2010).

Enough to qualify the Villans for the Europa Conference League, their first participation in a European Cup in twelve years. But above all a way to put this legendary club back in the spotlight. Winner of the Champion Clubs’ Cup in 1982, Aston Villa has indeed left its mark on the history of English football. This is evidenced by the club’s 7 championship titles (the last in 1981), but also the 7 FA Cups and 5 League Cups won by the residents of Villa Park. A glorious era, in parallel with the industrial golden age of the city, the 2nd largest in the United Kingdom, and which at that time could look its rivals in London, Manchester or Liverpool in the eye.

Still, this glorious past was a long way away when Unai Emery took over the team, more accustomed to maintaining its position for ten years than at the top of the table. But the one who, as during his time at PSG, was mocked for his pronounced accent, no longer makes anyone laugh today. In his first 50 games with Villa, the Basque has 31 victories, more than Pep Guardiola (29) and Jürgen Klopp (23) during their debut in England.

Emery’s laboratory

For the calendar year 2023, Aston Villa has 75 points, three less than Arsenal, and 8 less than Manchester City. Two giants who have fallen in recent days at Villa Park. Feats that make local supporters dream, even if the Basque tempered expectations on Wednesday, after the success against City: “Qualifying for the Champions League is of course a big motivation for us. But let’s wait until the 30th or 32nd day… We have to be happy and focused.”

Led by French internationals Boubacar Kamara, Lucas Digne and Moussa Diaby, the Villans can, however, logically have high ambitions. The recipe for this renewal? Intense pressing all over the pitch, a quick and daring restart, and old-fashioned individual marking, which make Aston Villa impassable and irresistible. Enough for Pep Guardiola himself to make the Villans contenders for the final title.

Known for his extremism, Unai Emery has made Aston Villa his laboratory, even if it means no longer counting his hours and extending the video sessions with the locker room. This slaughter allowed the Spaniard to transform a team which was playing for its maintenance into a candidate for the podium, without spending millions in the transfer window, since Villa only recorded two reinforcements last summer: Moussa Diaby and Pau Torres.

These two key elements came to strengthen a coherent and vengeful squad, like the Argentine world champion Emiliano Martinez, long shunned by Arsenal (also) before blossoming in Birmingham. So many elements which explain the revival of Aston Villa, a giant which is waking up and which is beginning to shake the big names across the Channel. Like the Peaky Blinders in their time.

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