Unai Emery delivers Aston Villa Euro verdict before turning focus back to top-four finish

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery on the touchline during the UEFA Europa Conference League semi-final, second leg match against Olympiacos.
Verdict... Villa boss Unai Emery on the touchline in Athens. -Credit:Zac Goodwin

Unai Emery insists it is important his players learn from their first season in Europe with Aston Villa after being knocked out of the Europa Conference League by Olympiacos at the semi-final stage.

Villa lost 4-2 at home last week and couldn’t turn the tie around in the Karaiskakis Stadium just outside Athens, losing 2-0 to the Greek side on the night. Ayoub El Kaabi bagged a double to take his tally across both legs to five goals, having scored a hat-trick at Villa Park in the first leg.

“I was more or less comfortable with the way we played the first half today,” Emery admitted. “They scored one goal and were more clinical than us. The second half progressively we were feeling less comfortable and the second goal more or less finished the match.

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“It’s our process. Thankfully for our fans, we have got to the semi-final, but we have to accept it’s not enough. At the start of the season, I said our first process was to compete in Europe and we go next year to playing in Europe. We are improving and we still have the opportunity to get the fourth position [in the Premier League], which is amazing motivation.

“We have to be disappointed a little bit, and frustrated a little bit, and be quick to focus on Monday. But everything we are taking in. Today was more difficult. I knew with my experience that they [Olympiacos] were playing with confidence, but we were focusing as well on the opportunity here and chances to get closer to them, but we didn’t do it and we have to accept it and try to understand our process and how we can improve after the experiences we are having. It is a difficult night, but we’re in Europe again next season."

Villa’s hopes of a comeback were effectively ended after just 10 minutes when El Kaabi extended Olympiacos’ lead to the sound of a near-deafening noise. The Premier League side were sliced open by a long ball, former Wolves attacker Daniel Podence teed up Quini, and his cross was bundled home by El Kaabi.

And El Kaabi’s fifth goal of the tie in the 81st minute killed it as he raced clear and powered past Emiliano Martinez. It was initially ruled out for offside but VAR overturned the decision.

Emery added: “The summary of the season is that there is still too much to play in Premier League. We were very motivated because for a long time Villa didn’t play in Europe, but to win is very difficult. I know to win in Europe is very difficult.

“I will have to accept getting here and getting experiences and information. Experience is trying to manage different moments, and the first leg we played was the moment we didn’t manage the way we wanted to. But even here we tried to get a good result.

“They have experience themselves and a coach with experiences from different countries. I will try to get better. This year we struggled playing with other teams in other countries, and Olympiacos have some experiences as well. I am happy for them because it was fantastic what they created here and they deserved it.”

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