Aston Villa 1-0 Fulham: ‘From fighting relegation to brink of Europe’ – Emery’s ‘remarkable’ job

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Unai Emery during Aston Villa's Premier League victory over Fulham at Villa Park
Aston Villa have won 13 of their 20 league games under Unai Emery

From a relegation battle to European contenders – it is hard to believe the transformation at Aston Villa.

Since Unai Emery’s appointment as manager in November, Villa are second in the Premier League form table – only below Arsenal – and top if you take just the last 10 games into account.

When they last played Fulham in October, they ended the game in crisis, out of the relegation zone only on goals scored – and without a manager.

That 3-0 loss at Craven Cottage saw Villa fans, whose side had only won two of their opening 11 matches, boo the side off and brought an end to Steven Gerrard’s reign in charge.

But Unai Emery has got the Villa faithful looking up – and dreaming of better times again.

A scrappy, hard-fought 1-0 win over Fulham at Villa Park on Tuesday took them up to fifth, above Tottenham, with five games of the season to go and a chance to return to European football after a 13-year absence.

“We are in the Europa position, it is still difficult to achieve,” said Emery.

“The dreams are here and it’s good for everybody – and we can share this with the supporters.

“We’re now a candidate for fifth. But Tottenham plays tomorrow, Liverpool have a match less than us, Brighton three matches and we have to play Liverpool, Tottenham and Brighton.

“With each match we are winning, it is giving us confidence and a chance to get there.”

Villa on the up

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Emery started his job five months ago and instantly guided them to a 3-1 win over Manchester United and Villa have not looked back since. They have picked up 42 points out of 60 available since 6 November, with only Arsenal (44) having more in that period, although Manchester City have played three games less.

Villa have now won 13 of their 20 league games under the Spaniard, scoring in every match, and are unbeaten in 10 since a 4-2 loss against league leaders Arsenal in February.

“They’re on the up, they could really go and do some damage,” said former Villa midfielder Steve Sidwell on BT Sport.

“Who can begrudge them getting into Europe, from fighting relegation to the brink of Europe.”

Before the start of the season, Gerrard – after taking Villa to 11th in 2021-22 – stripped Tyrone Mings of the captaincy, with John McGinn the replacement.

Against a lacklustre Fulham, the current captain set up the former one with Mings heading in from McGinn’s first-half corner in a game of few chances.

Speaking on BBC Radio 5 Live, former Scotland midfielder Charlie Adam felt Emery, who had previously managed Sevilla, Paris St-Germain, Arsenal and Villarreal, had “transformed” the club.

“At the early part of the season, Steven was in there and made some big decisions like changing the captaincy and the players didn’t like it,” added Adam.

“Unai Emery has come in and seemingly transformed it. To get to where they are now, from where they were, and possibly finish in Europe will be a remarkable achievement for Villa.”

Matches against European rivals to define season

Tyrone Mings celebrates scoring the winning goal in Aston Villa's Premier League win over Fulham at Villa Park
Tyrone Mings, scorer of the winning goal against Fulham, was stripped of the club captaincy under previous manager Steven Gerrard

Villa won the European Cup in 1982, but have not played in European competition since losing in the Europa League play-offs to Rapid Vienna in August 2010.

Their fate lies in their own hands with matches against four of the top eight – Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and Brighton – still to come, as well as a derby at Wolves.

They finished 11th last season and fifth or sixth will leave them in the Europa League next season, with seventh enough for a place in the Europa Conference League play-offs.

“I think they’re well equipped for Europe,” said former Villa striker Peter Crouch.

“The biggest asset is their manager, who always does well with the underdog and Aston Villa could potentially be that.

“There are teams who wouldn’t want to play against Villa – I wouldn’t bet against them now.”

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