Talking Tactics: How Villa are shaping up under Emery after United scalp
Unai Emery's start as Aston Villa boss could hardly have gone better, securing the club's first home league win over Manchester United for 27 years.
The Basque coach immediately endeared himself to the Villa Park faithful as an expert tactical display inspired an impressive 3-1 win over Erik ten Hag's Red Devils.
With Villa stalling for a year under previous manager Steven Gerrard, hopes are growing that the four-time Europa League winner is finally the right man to help them realise their grand ambitions.
As they prepare to face United once again in the Carabao Cup tonight, we look at how the Midlanders are shaping up under the new boss.
Devil is in the detail
Despite just five days with the players before Sunday’s game, there were already clear signs of Emery putting his stamp on things.
Known for his meticulous level of detail, the ex-Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain coach executed a game plan that turned a clash Villa were expected to get little from into a fairly comfortable afternoon.
The use of a fluid 4-2-2-2 formation proved a masterstroke, with the two No10s Emiliano Buendia and Jacob Ramsey often dropping deep to support deep-lying pair Douglas Luiz and Leander Dendoncker.
That led to United regularly being outnumbered four to three in midfield, forcing their full-backs out of position in order to support Casemiro and Co.
A pacey forward line of Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey were given license to push forward and test United's isolated centre-backs.
And Villa’s full-backs were also able to push on and contribute in attack, with the second goalscorer Lucas Digne arguably having his best game in a claret and blue shirt to date.
Emery made just two changes to the XI that lost 4-0 to Newcastle a week before — but they were crucial ones.
Digne was brought in for veteran Ashley Young at left-back and the Frenchman hit a stunning free-kick to double Villa’s lead after just 11 minutes.
But the introduction of local lad Ramsey was perhaps most pivotal to Villa’s dominant display.
The England Under-21s midfielder assisted Bailey's opener, won the free-kick for Digne’s effort before emphatically firing the match-sealing third into the top corner in an all-action display.
The Villa academy’s most successful product since Jack Grealish, Ramsey is a supreme talent but has struggled for consistency this term.
He has arguably suffered from his versatility under previous managers Dean Smith and Gerrard, leading to him never nailing down a favoured position.
Neil Cutler, who was Villa’s goalkeeping coach before Emery arrived last week, recently said: "It has been difficult for JJ [Ramsey], because we have changed formations, changed managers, he has not been given a role.
"His positions have been No10, No8, No6. It has been really difficult for him. He is a natural player, he can play anywhere. He is a pure, natural talent.
"With the new manager coming in, hopefully he can get a position that he can just bed down now."
While Emery's tactics worked a treat in his first game, there is every chance he could change his plan for tonight’s away clash at Old Trafford, or for Sunday’s trip to Brighton.
Arnaut Danjuma, a star of Emery’s previous club Villarreal, recently revealed how the 51-year-old shifts his tactics based on the threats of the opposition.
Speaking during the Yellow Submarine's run to the Champions League semi-final, the Netherlands international said: "One of our main strengths is to be able to execute what the manager wants in an almost perfect way and play in a different way depending on the opponent.
"[Emery] is such an elite tactical coach to have. If you execute his game plan, you have a great chance of winning regardless of who the opponent is.
"We can sit back and play on the counter. We can play with the ball and create. We can do everything."
A clean slate
As is often the case when a new manager comes in, Emery has handed a clean slate to every first-team squad member.
That will be music to the ears of a selection of stars who were exiled under Gerrard including Frederic Guilbert, Marvelous Nakamba and, perhaps most significantly, Morgan Sanson.
The former Marseille midfielder has barely kicked a ball since arriving for £14million in January 2021, with Gerrard’s repeated omissions of the 28-year-old Frenchman — despite a seemingly dysfunctional engine room — becoming a particular sticking point with fans.
Sanson was introduced for his first minutes of the season during the closing stages against United and Emery has since revealed he is a big fan of the former France Under-21s international.
Emery said: "He's done very well in the days that we have been in the training ground. I knew him when he was playing in Marseille when I was in Paris. I think he's a good player.
"He was injured and out of matches. I think he can help us. Against United, for example, in the last minute, he kept the position he usually plays and his skills were good to help us."
Undoubtedly a new start for Sanson, the hope will be that Emery continues to prove a breath of fresh air for Villa as a whole too.