Aston Villa

Aston Villa

Premier League • England

Aston Villa told why top-four finish is possible as Jamie Carragher names only issue Unai Emery must fix

Jamie Carragher believes Unai Emery can steer Aston Villa into the Champions League

Jamie Carragher believes Unai Emery can steer Aston Villa into the Champions League

Aston Villa have been told they have it well within them to gatecrash the top four and bring Champions League football to the club next season – with Jamie Carragher naming the only thing that perhaps put their quest in some doubt.

The Villains appointed former Arsenal boss Unai Emery into their hotseat a year ago on Tuesday – and their progress since he took the reins has been nothing short of revolutionary. Indeed, Aston Villa were seemingly involved in a relegation fight when he succeeded Steven Gerrard; now a year later the club are fifth in the Premier League and among the favourites to win this season’s UEFA Conference League after the Spaniard steered them to a seventh-placed finish last term.

As a result, the feelgood factor at Villa Park has rarely been higher with a string of top-quality additions – such as Pau Torres and Moussa Diaby – making a significant difference and having the club dreaming of even better.

Their latest showing – a 4-1 victory over a solid West Ham side on Sunday – fired Villa up to fifth and just two two points shy of top spot. That was their 11th successive Premier League win at Villa Park, which is clearly becoming something of a fortress.

And while a title push appears unlikely, Carragher is adamant that Emery can succeed in emulating Newcastle last season and catapulting Villa into next season’s Champions League.

However, with Leon Bailey tapping into that belief and stating “the sky is the limit for us”, Carragher has issued one note of caution which Emery will need to manage if the club are to finish above the likes of Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle.

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Carragher on why Aston Villa can finish in the top four

Speaking on Sky Sports after their 4-1 destruction of West Ham, Carragher has tapped into the reasons why Villa have every reason to dream big this season.

“Sometimes you get a team that are really tight at the back but they struggle to score goals. And sometimes you get teams that score goals but leak them in at the back,’ Carragher said.

“The top teams are the ones who can do it at both ends. But normally you need the best players like at Manchester City or Liverpool over the past few years. But doing it here at Aston Villa is outstanding.

“And you go back to last season and you think about what Newcastle did in terms of qualifying for the Champions League. And they were written off throughout the season, ‘they won’t get there’. But eventually they did.!

Carragher, however, reckons Emery is going to have to find a way to manage Villa’s workload, especially once they reach the latter stages of Europe, with the Thursday-Sunday, Thursday-Sunday calendar often weighing heavy on sides.

“It will be tough for Aston Villa,” he added. “The only problem they’ve got in terms of getting into the Champions League that will be different to Newcastle last seaon is they’ve got European football.

“I think they’ll go far in that competetion [Europa Conference League] because of the manager’s record in Europe, so there will be a lot of Thursday-Sunday [fixtures] after Christmas. That might be the only problem they have.”

Emery plays down Aston Villa expectations

Emery, who helped Sevilla win the Europa League three times before switching to Arsenal, was something of a maligned figure during his time in charge at Emirates Stadium.

He restored his reputation by helping Villarreal win the Europa League – the club’s biggest honour in their history – before returning to manage in the Premier League with Villa.

His stock has now never been higher with the 51-year-old quite-rightly regarded as one of the best coaches around.

However, he has done his best to dampen demands and expectations at Villa since his appointment 364 days ago. And he is coy on their prospects of finishing in the top four, claiming his side are still very much a work in progress.

“We are not contenders to be in the top four or in the top seven teams in the beginning but of course we need to take our dreams,” Emery said.

“One of our dreams is to be with the top seven teams and to do something in Europe. To get European football is very important and that is the work we need to try to do. We need to be consistent in what we are doing.”

Villa are next in action against Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar – beaten Conference League semi-finalists last season – on Thursday before taking on Luton Town at Villa Park on Sunday in a game that will present a golden chance to make it 12 successive Premier League wins on home turf.

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