A masterclass in ruthless finishing allowed Aston Villa to go top of Europa Conference League Group E on Thursday evening.
Heading in off the back of a thrilling 4-1 win over West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday in which they showcased their supreme attacking talent, Villa are riding an extreme high at the moment. What better way to keep that going than winning in Europe by the exact same scoreline?
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It took just 13 minutes for Unai Emery’s men to get up and running against AZ Alkmaar, with Leon Bailey dispatching an excellent finish from the edge of the box. 10 minutes later, Youri Tielemans doubled the lead, punishing AZ for some slack passing by calmly finishing a precise John McGinn pick out for his first goal of 2023.
Two goals in the space of five second-half minutes truly put AZ to the sword, with Ollie Watkins stepping up first for his ninth goal in all competitions this season and his 14th goal involvement in 15 games. McGinn then netted one of his own in the 56th minute to finish the job.
AZ did pull one back in the 65th minute through Ibrahim Sadiq, but it was a mere footnote in what was a lesson in how to put the ball in the net from the visitors. Villa’s four-goal haul on the night impressively came from just five shots in total, all of which hit the target, with AZ stopper Mat Ryan only able to keep one of them out.
And once AZ did finally breach the Villa backline, the visitors responded in incredible fashion, keeping the ball for long spells and holding their Dutch hosts at arm’s length, even causing an audible amount of frustration around the AFAS Stadion.
Three key stats from Aston Villa’s 4-1 win over AZ…
- Aston Villa scored four goals from just five shots.
- All five of those shots were on target.
- Aston Villa’s four goals were all scored by different players.
Prior to Thursday’s trip to the Netherlands, Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez placed Unai Emery among the very best managers in the world and stated his sensational desire to win the Champions League with the Midlands club, whose sole success at Europe’s top table came back in 1982.
“Unai Emery [is] one of the top five managers in the world right now,” said Martinez, adding: “Aston Villa wants to win the Champions League and win a trophy. I’m not here to waste time. We will win something. Since I joined, we move forward. I’ll try to put Aston Villa in the Champions League.”
Villa’s current five-game mini-unbeaten run has seen them win four times and draw once, while scoring an incredible 16 goals and conceding just four. Given Emery’s wider influence on this club since his arrival in November last year, we’re starting to think Martinez has a point.
Last season, West Ham used Europa Conference League glory to springboard themselves into the Europa League while turning themselves into contenders for top Premier League places.
It’s performances like these where Villa dispatch an opponent in merciless fashion that make you think they might just be capable of skipping out the Europa League stage to dine straight at Europe’s top table.
Who in this season’s Conference League — or Premier League for that matter — would want to stand in their way in this form?