By Phil McNulty Chief football writer at Villa Park
SECONDS before a magnificent victory over Manchester City was confirmed, a roar swept around Aston Villa’s famous old stadium. It was the sound of something special stirring under manager Unai Emery.
Emery has produced an outstanding body of work since succeeding Steven Gerrard in October 2022 but this was a masterpiece, the biggest statement he has made since arriving at Villa Park.
And how those Aston Villa fans loved every moment.
The scoreline , a 1-0 Villa victory, is almost laughably misleading when set against the sheer dominance Emery’s team exerted over last season’s Treble winners, giving him his first triumph over City manager Pep Guardiola at the 14th attempt.
Leon Bailey’s winner 16 minutes from time had a touch of fortune, with a crucial deflection off Ruben Dias beating Ederson, but there was nothing lucky about this result. The only injustice was that Villa did not win more convincingly.
Villa’s supporters were in dreamland, justifiably so, when the final whistle sounded. They sit third in the Premier League, ahead of City and only four points behind leaders Arsenal, who they host on Saturday.
When Emery walked into Villa, they were 14th, only three points above the relegation places. He guided them into Europe at the end of last season; they have moved on to a different level this season. This was a prime example.
Villa’s win was their first over City since September 2013. A 14th successive home league win equals club record runs of 1903 and 1931. It has given them their best start to a league season since 1980-81, when they won the title.
Experienced observers were struggling to remember a Villa performance of such quality, intensity and organisation against opposition on City’s level, all a rich tribute to Emery’s work and the way his players have bought in.
Villa hunted down City fearlessly and ruthlessly from the first whistle – then when they caught them, shook them until they rattled. It was a fearsome going over, one the champions have rarely been subjected to in recent years, reflected in the statistic of 22 Villa shots to City’s two. That tally did not flatter Villa.
Former Scotland international Pat Nevin, at Villa Park for BBC Radio 5 Live, said: “How wrong I was about Villa after seeing them get thrashed 5-1 up at Newcastle United on the opening weekend of the season?
“Emery has got this side playing together, as a unit and as a team. The belief and attitude from every single player… there was no fear at any point against Manchester City, one of the best teams we have seen for many years.
“This is a special team that Emery has put together. I don’t think you can bet against them finishing in the top four this year. Plenty may think they are just visiting but I think they’ve got what it takes.”
It is a long time since City were knocked out of their usually composed stride so emphatically. Villa scented vulnerability and responded accordingly.
Erling Haaland had two early efforts brilliantly dealt with by Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez but other than that it was one-way traffic. The home fans loved it. They offered deafening backing throughout and exploded with elation at the final whistle.
The architect of it all, Emery beamed broadly as he marched down the touchline high-fiving Villa fans who have come to worship him.
Emery’s reputation may have taken a hit during his time as Arsene Wenger’s successor at Arsenal, although he did finish fifth and reach the Europa League final in his one full season, but his record elsewhere proves he is a high-class operator.
He has won the Europa League four times – three with Sevilla, one with Villarreal – and some smart money will be on him winning the Europa Conference League with Villa this season.
Emery has revived Villa. The players have bought into his exacting, meticulous methods and have delivered the results to prove it.
So have the fans. Villa Park’s atmosphere suggests a club on an upward trajectory after a period of stagnation and underachievement. It is a stretch to suggest Emery’s side will mount a title challenge but evidence is growing to suggest they are very serious top-four contenders.
Villa are putting the pieces in place for future success with Emery now reunited with his old ally Monchi, who is the club’s president of football operations, alongside fiercely ambitious owners in Nassef Sawiris and Wes Edens.
Early days, yes, but everything on and off the pitch at Villa Park on this landmark night screamed of a club moving in the right direction under a superb leader.
December 7, 2023 @ 6:57 GMT|Tags: Unai Emery