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Talking Tactics: Emery and De Zerbi disrupting the top-flight elite
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Cian Cheesbrough

The final day of the Premier League season will see two of the English top flight's most impressive managers go head-to-head.

Unai Emery's Aston Villa can book a place in the Europa Conference League with a victory after guiding them from relegation jeopardy to seventh since taking over in November.

A Europa League spot is already secured for visiting Brighton, with a 1-1 draw against Manchester City on Wednesday night guaranteeing a sixth-placed finish for Roberto De Zerbi's men.

As the two tacticians collide at Villa Park, we turn the spotlight on their remarkable campaigns which have seen both nominated for Premier League Manager of the Season.

Seagulls soaring

Many feared the worst when popular manager Graham Potter, who had just led Brighton to a record ninth-placed finish, left the South Coast for Chelsea last September.

Replacement De Zerbi was a lesser-known name at the time of his appointment — but the former Shakhtar Donetsk boss' exciting brand of attacking football is now the envy of much of the division.

And while Potter's time at Stamford Bridge has already come to an acrimonious end, the Seagulls will look forward to their first ever European adventure next term under the charismatic Italian.

Villa thrillers

Aston Villa have transformed into European contenders under Unai Emery
Aston Villa have transformed into European contenders under Unai Emery

The rapid transformation in which Emery has turned things around at Villa is an equally impressive feat.

When predecessor Steven Gerrard was sacked following a dismal 3-0 defeat at Fulham last October, the Midlands outfit sat outside of the bottom three on goal difference alone with only two wins from their first 11 games.

Under the former Arsenal boss, the Villans are now up to seventh with a hugely impressive record of 14 victories from his 24 games in charge.

Similar styles

Villa were 2-1 winners in November's reverse fixture at the Amex but both sides have come on leaps and bounds even since then.

While the two tacticians appear different in practice, their approaches are guided by similar principles.

Both play short passes out from the back, baiting and provoking opposition to press, allowing them to control possession against even the best sides and creating space for attacking players.

In Emery's case, it is a slow, controlled and measured build-up. With De Zerbi it is often a quicker process with one-touch passes allowing the ball to move into the final third at speed.

Brighton rank highest in the Premier League for chances created
Brighton rank highest in the Premier League for chances created

High praise

The eye-catching work the two tacticians have done in the top flight this season has not escaped the attentions of two of the division's biggest names.

Pep Guardiola recently remarked of De Zerbi: "Roberto is one of the most influential managers in the last 20 years. There is no team playing the way they play — it's unique.

"I had the feeling when he arrived the impact he would have in the Premier League would be great — I didn't expect him to do it in this short space of time. They deserve completely the success they have."

Jurgen Klopp, the only Premier League manager other than Guardiola to win the title in the last six years, has been similarly impressed with Emery's exploits in the Second City.

The German said before Liverpool's clash with Villa last weekend: "Aston Villa — my God. They play a superb second half of the season and fight for Europe as well, so it will be tricky. 

"Unai is doing a heck of a job at Aston Villa. We have to make sure we’re ready.”

Villa likely need to beat Brighton to join them in Europe but regardless of if they are able to do so, both clubs' futures are undoubtedly in good hands with their brilliant managers in charge.


Aston VillaBrighton & Hove AlbionPremier League
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