Aston Villa begun their UEFA Europa Conference League campaign with a dispiriting 3-2 defeat away at Legia Warsaw on Thursday. Utterly complacent at the back throughout, Unai Emery will undoubtedly be frustrated with his side’s lack of focus in the defensive third. Going forward it wasn’t much better either - especially in the second half - and it goes down as a disappointing start.
Villa got the game underway with confidence when passing out from the back but they were dealt a huge shock as Legia scored on their very first attack, with just three minutes played. Calum Chambers, starting for the first time since the play-off against Hibernian, failed to press quickly enough and Lucas Digne was lazy to not pick up Legia forward Paweł Wszołek, who met Patryk Kun’s cross at the far post for 1-0.
It didn’t take long for a response, as Nicolò Zaniolo sprinted away on the half-turn and struck a thunderous effort towards the top left-hand corner. The Italian was denied a wonder goal by a brilliant diving stop from Legia goalkeeper Kacper Tobiasz but the agony in the away end instantly turned to joy, as Jhon Durán reacted quickest to nod the ball into the net on the rebound to make it 1-1.
Emery’s men resumed regular service after their equaliser, keeping possession patiently and waiting for the hosts to press before advancing on attacks. Despite the dominance, though, Villa were caught napping yet again as Legia took the lead in the 26th minute. Advancing on the right on the counter, Wszołek beat Digne and crossed to Ernest Muçi. The winger slotted it past Emi Martinez for 2-1.
Rather ironically, Legia then went on to control proceedings but this was when Villa managed to equalise for a second time. Wszołek, who had a goal and an assist to his name beforehand, got involved at the other end as he failed to clear properly and Digne tried his luck from range on the half-volley. The Frenchman’s effort was struck off Wszołek’s back and it deflected into the top right-hand corner for 2-2.
Much to the discountenance of the travelling support, it was the exact same story for the Villans in the second half as Legia took the lead again in the 51st minute. Emery looked absolutely furious on the bench as Villa showed very little desire defensively and both Chambers and Konsa were caught out. Muçi got on the scoresheet for the second time of the night as he dribbled beyond and fired across a helpless Martinez.
Emery then turned to the bench and the substitutions certainly made a difference, giving the men in claret and blue more urgency in attack. Jacob Ramsey had the best opportunity to put it level as the ball fell to him in the area but the youngster put his shot well wide of the left post and, in the end, Legia were able to hold on. Here are our player ratings as Villa head back to the drawing board for Sunday’s trip to Chelsea.