Unai Emery gives 'completely wrong' Aston Villa answer as Emi Martinez relishes wrath of 47,000

Unai Emery spoke to the media ahead of Aston Villa's Europa Conference League quarter-final against Lille
Unai Emery spoke to the media ahead of Aston Villa's Europa Conference League quarter-final against Lille -Credit:Photo by Matt McNulty - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images

It's barely stopped raining in Lille since I arrived on Tuesday afternoon, but nothing is going to dampen the spirits of the over 2,500 Aston Villa fans whose European tour continues this week.

They'll be scrambling to book their flights to either Istanbul or Athens if Villa overcome Lille in their Europa Conference League quarter-final second leg on Thursday. The latter is, of course, where Villa hope their journey will end this season in late May, before they do it all over again next season with a European place already secured given their excellent Premier League form this term. Of course, Champions League football is the target with only five Premier League games left to play.

Balancing their domestic and European commitments was the big question mark put to Villa no sooner after finishing in seventh place on the final day of the 2022/23 campaign. And considering the amount of injuries Emery has been forced to deal with this term, it makes the job he has performed all the more remarkable.

READ | Monchi says what everyone is thinking about Aston Villa and a stunning double

READ | Five Aston Villa players could miss Europa Conference League semi-final if they beat Lille

Alex Moreno is the latest player to be sidelined with an injury and he will miss two to three weeks with a small calf problem. He joins the likes of Tyrone Mings, Emi Buendia, Jacob Ramsey and Boubacar Kamara on the treatment table, but he could return in time for a possible Europa Conference League semi-final meeting with either Fenerbahce or Olympiacos if Villa progress in Europe on Thursday evening.

Despite their one-goal advantage, Villa have a big challenge ahead to overcome Lille at the Stade Pierre Mauroy. Around 47,500 home fans are expected inside the stadium, with another 2,600 away supporters.

Lille have won 29 of their last 38 home matches in all competitions, losing just once. This is Villa’s biggest test in Europe so far - how they manage the game is crucial. The atmosphere will be raucous, particularly when Emi Martinez has his studs on the ball. The Argentina number one is set to play a competitive match in France for the first time since he won the World Cup through his penalty saving heroics in 2022.

"We are in France tomorrow with fans behind us too," Emery said in his pre-match press conference. "We have to be ready for the pressure, and for the opposing supporters. We have to be mature and focused – it’s a football match. We have to play with this atmosphere here like we played last week with the fans behind us more than then.

"We have to manage it, we have to control emotions, be mature and responsible. Martinez is very important for us, very recognised in world football. He has high prestige. Of course when you get success with your country you will have opponents in other countries and teams you beat, but we will protect him.

"We didn’t speak about it. We are focusing on the match with everything and tomorrow we will play in this scenario with some 50,000 of their fans and our fans. We try to play our match being focused."

Losing Moreno is a blow because Villa have are light on options at left-back, but they will welcome Douglas Luiz back into the fold after he missed the trip to Arsenal through suspension. However, a yellow card on Thursday night would rule him out of the semi-final if Villa get there. Matty Cash, Moussa Diaby, John McGinn and Youri Tielemans are also walking a disciplinary tightrope.

Asked if the possible suspensions are on his mind, Emery said: "Completely not. Why? Because tomorrow we can win and we can lose. If we are thinking that we are going to play another match, we are wrong.

"We are completely wrong. We have to play tomorrow 100 per cent, of course no red cards, but yellow cards, in case they get them it is not relevant for me. It is relevant if we are playing well and competitive with respect for them and trying to beat them."

Villa come into the game on the back of a 2-0 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. It's a result which can give Emery's players the confidence they need to get over the line on Thursday despite playing four games in the last fortnight.

"It was a very good result for us, but we are trying to separate those competitions. Of course, our motivation is to get a European position. And now we have to enjoy the way we are in. Whatever competition, Europe is a big motivation.

"The Premier League is the first way to get it. But now we are contender to get a trophy and be motivated. We have to do a hard effort to get it and now we are. Through this competition we can get a title.

"Every match is difficult and we have to take experiences on the way. Other players, more than less they don’t have experiences in Europe. Winning on Sunday against Arsenal is very good for the Premier League. Now, our focus is tomorrow, trying to be competitive. Very difficult opponent."

Will Villa overcome Lille and reach the semi-finals? Tell us HERE