Unai Emery makes rare Aston Villa admission amid surprise Man City call

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Aston Villa’s 4-1 defeat at Manchester City brought about a rare concession from manager Unai Emery.

Unai Emery admitting a purposeful slash in team quality is a collector’s item - many would say - as the Aston Villa boss regularly talks up replacements for unavailable players, regardless of how amiss or fringe they may be.

This wasn’t the case after the 4-1 defeat at Manchester City, though. Emery was strangely happy to concede the game was effectively a training exercise for irregular starters, with any minuscule chance of collecting a point or three from the fixture a bonus.

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Fans, journalists and neutrals alike were in synonymous disbelief when Villa’s starting lineup was confirmed; five changes were made from the 2-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers. A sixth swap was later locked in as Robin Olsen replaced the ill-stricken Emiliano Martinez.

But rotation was necessary and - in Emery’s acknowledgment - “intelligent” with plenty of more winnable matches on the horizon. It may seem pessimistic to essentially admit defeat but that was always the likeliest outcome at Etihad Stadium, even despite the success against the same opposition earlier this term.

“We will need them and we will need to give them chances to play,” Emery said of the players rotated into his XI. “They need confidence and practice. We made changes because we need to for some injuries and because as well some players need to get playing and practicing.

“We will play a lot of matches for the next weeks, starting on Saturday against Brentford and then in the Conference League with Lille. It was important to be intelligent playing against Man City. We prepared the match trying to win, but thinking as well with injuries and McGinn suspended, getting practice with some players.”

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England international Phil Foden starred under the lights on Wednesday night, netting a hat-trick to move clear of Villa after Jhon Duran’s earlier equaliser. Pep Guardiola’s team deserved to win, with more possession, more shots attempted and more efforts on target throughout.

Emery admitted a deliberate rotation at Man City to allow fringe players to practice, effectively accepting defeat before a ball had been kicked.Emery admitted a deliberate rotation at Man City to allow fringe players to practice, effectively accepting defeat before a ball had been kicked.
Emery admitted a deliberate rotation at Man City to allow fringe players to practice, effectively accepting defeat before a ball had been kicked. | Getty Images

“They showed their power,” Emery said when asked if City’s level of quality is within reach. “We won against them at home and competed very well under different circumstances. But the circumstances we had today were not enough to try to get three points,” Emery continued, confessing he knew a win was never truly on the cards.

Martinez, Ollie Watkins and John McGinn are three players Villa struggle to live without. The draw at West Ham United and the win over Wolves proved appropriate measures can be taken for McGinn’s absence, but lacking Martinez as a world-class goalkeeper and Watkins as an upper-echelon striker takes Villa over the edge.

It’s hoped all three can start on Saturday as the men in claret and blue play host to Brentford in the Premier League. McGinn is back from his three-match suspension, Martinez’s illness should have cleared and Watkins faces a late fitness test. It could - and should - be a stronger lineup.

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