Aston Villa maintained their Champions League charge with a thumping 4-1 win over West Ham; with Luton Town next up at Villa Park as part of a favourable run of fixtures, cementing their position in the top five should not be the height of the club’s ambitions
Aston Villa boss Unai Emery played down his side’s Champions League credentials despite thrashing West Ham, but a top-five finish should not be the ceiling at Villa Park.
Villa are just two points off Premier League pacesetters Manchester City and Arsenal following Sunday’s 4-1 win.
Douglas Luiz’s double and clinical finishes from Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey ended Villa’s Hammers hoodoo, for their first victory over West Ham since 2015.
- Aston Villa 4-1 West Ham – report & highlights
- Watch free Premier League highlights
- Stream the Premier League and more with NOW
- Get Sky Sports | Download the Sky Sports app
They returned to fifth spot, just a point adrift of the top four, with games against Luton, Nottingham Forest and Fulham coming up next.
“There are seven teams contending. We are after seven teams; Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle,” said Emery, with fifth potentially offering a Champions League place this term.
Dream, always. My dream is to win the Champions League.
“Dream, always. My dream is to win the Champions League but now we are fifth and we are going to face each match trying to get a good performance.
“It’s 38 matches and we lost at Newcastle, we lost at Liverpool. They are matches we are not going to play again.
“I prefer to speak about the matches we won but I have to speak about the matches we lost. This is the balance. We have to be very demanding.
Emery the serial winner
Unai Emery (with Aston Villa) is one of 10 managers to average at least two points per game in a single spell with a club in the Premier League (min. 20 games), after Alex Ferguson with Manchester United, José Mourinho (both spells), Avram Grant and Carlo Ancelotti with Chelsea, Jürgen Klopp with Liverpool, and Manuel Pellegrini, Pep Guardiola and Roberto Mancini with Manchester City.
“In the table West Ham were two points behind us and the level we have now, they have as well. It was very important.
“The process is going in the right way, it’s going to be difficult. In the end we won 4-1.”
Can Villa maintain blistering start?
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:
There are more than a few shades of the 2015/16 season about Aston Villa’s start. Back then, against all the odds, Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester City won the Premier League title during a campaign in which several of the big clubs were experiencing a period of transition.
By Jurgen Klopp’s own admission, this is Liverpool 2.0 – and their surge into the top four this term has not been without its issues, primarily defensively. Arsenal have already been involved in three 2-2 draws while Mikel Arteta has “complicated” matters with the goalkeeping debate.
Tottenham have statistically overperformed during their blistering start under Ange Postecoglou, while Manchester City have only just restored a sense of normal service following back-to-back league defeats.
There is an opportunity for a party-pooper to emerge, and Villa have their own charming, maligned manager with unfinished business. One year on from his appointment, Unai Emery has his fingerprints all over this Villa side.
It is one full of internationals, and their impressive form is no fluke, but a carry-over from last season. In Douglas Luiz, they have arguably the most complete midfielder in the division, chronically overlooked by those who care to rank such things and always under the radar.
In Tyrone Mings’ absence, Luiz has come forward and shown his leadership as the midfield linchpin, scoring in a record six successive Premier League home games, surpassing the record previously held by Dwight Yorke (5 – 1996).
Then, there is Ollie Watkins, who has strengthened his credentials as Harry Kane’s understudy. In a European Championship year, as was the case in 2016 with Jamie Vardy, the striker has all the motivation he needs to maintain his form, both in scoring and providing assists.
Despite being taken off penalty duties, indeed perhaps because of having that additional responsibility removed, we are seeing the very best of Watkins.
Ollie Watkins has been directly involved in 27 goals across his 33 appearances for Aston Villa in the Premier League since Unai Emery’s first game in charge (18 goals, 9 assists); only Mohamed Salah (35) and Erling Haaland (33) have contributed to more goals in this time.
Carra: Emery gives me belief in Villa’s CL push
“The one thing big that gives me belief that they can stay in their position is Unai Emery,” Jamie Carragher said on Monday Night Football.
“When you think of managers at the elite level, I think we would agree there are two in the Premier League, Champions League winners in Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
“Then there are managers who come behind. But maybe not any who have had the success that Emery has had, numerous times winning trophies.
“I don’t think there are many managers who can actually compete with him in terms of what he has achieved in his career.”
How big an impact will Europe have on Villa’s season?
Jamie Carragher on what Aston Villa can achieve:
“The thing that’s really surprised me since Emery has come to Aston Villa is, looking back on his career as a coach, he was probably a little bit similar in the way his team set up to Rafa Benitez, who I knew well and his fitness coach or assistant coach was Rafa’s, Pako Ayestaran.
“I thought they’d be a really tough team to beat. But when you see the solidity but also getting goals at the other end, that’s the biggest thing for any team. Sometimes you get a team who are really tight at the back but struggle to score goals, another team who score goals but leak them in at the back.
“But the real top teams do it at both ends. Normally you need the best players. To be doing it here at Aston Villa is outstanding.
“You go back to last season and think what Newcastle did to get into the Champions League. They were written off right throughout the season. ‘They won’t get there’. But they eventually did. And yeah, it will be tough for Aston Villa.
“The only problem they’ve got in terms of getting into the Champions League that will be different to Newcastle last season is they’ve got European football. I think they’ll go far in that competition because of the manager’s record in Europe. So there will be a lot of Thursday-Sundays after Christmas and that might be the only problem they have.”
Key to Villa’s success or a risky strategy?
Aston Villa have caught opposition players offside a league-topping 36 times in the Premier League this season.
On Tuesday, Emery celebrated a year in the Villa Park hot seat. Back in October 2022, the club were two points of the bottom of the Premier League, but the victory over West Ham moved them two points off the summit.
It has been quite a rise since the departure of Steven Gerrard, with only three clubs having accumulated more points in that time that Villa. Indeed, the 62 points from 31 games in 2023 is only bettered by Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.
Emery is not getting carried away, however.
The Spaniard said: “We are feeling very good at home with our fans. You have to connect with the fans. You have to be focused and strong in our structure defensively and offensively but overall we have to create a big atmosphere here with the crowd and really feel they are playing with us.
“We are not contenders to be in the top four. We are not contenders to be in the top seven teams at the beginning but of course we have to take our dreams and try to get them and one of our dreams is to be with the top seven teams and try to do something this year in Europe.
“Of course to get Europe is very important and that is the work we have to do, to be very consistent in the way we are doing.”
Can Villa gatecrash the Champions League places?
Former Aston Villa manager Dean Smith to Sky Sports:
“It is a big ask – and I know they’ve got a couple of injuries with Buendia and Mings – but they’ve got a squad that can really compete both in Europe and here at home. You can feel that something is definitely building, that’s what the owners have invested into the football club. Why can’t you do what Newcastle did last season? That has to be the dream for this season.
“The owners have invested a lot into the football club. Infrastructure as well as playing staff. And they want to be successful at home and abroad. I don’t see any reason why they can’t. You can feel it here now. They’ve won 11 games at home now, there’s something happening definitely. Unai has done an incredible job, you can’t argue with those stats. They’re on an upward trajectory at the moment.”
Bailey hails spirit ‘whether you start or come in’
Aston Villa’s Leon Bailey to Sky Sports:
“The atmosphere today [against West Ham] was brilliant. Not even for us, for the fans. They can come to the stadium and enjoy getting a victory. We’re getting he results and hope it continues.
“The team spirit with everyone is great, whether you start or you come in. Even players from the bench, we carry out the instructions. I did that with a great goal.
“The sky is the limit for us. Let’s just move on to the next one, an important game on Thursday and focus on what’s next in front of us.”
Villa’s several super subs crucial for Emery
Sky Sports’ Sam Blitz:
Aston Villa made it 11 home wins in a row but another statistic is just as baffling. Four home games, 17 goals. Over four goals per Premier League home game.
But in every single home game, at least one substitute has scored. That is crucial when looking at Emery’s improving side.
Bailey scoring against West Ham from fellow substitute Youri Tielemans’ pass summed it all up. And it is all part of the Emery masterplan.
It means Villa – who also have Tyrone Mings, Emi Buendia and Jacob Ramsey out injured – have options as they try to balance their Thursday-Sunday European commitments. West Ham have that too – but the other team in claret and blue is faring better with it.