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Aston Villa’s style of play under Unai Emery, led by Emi Martinez, helps beat fatigue by resting in possession

Aston Villa followed up victory at Arsenal and progress in Europe with a come-from-behind win over Bournemouth to maintain their push for Champions League football. In The Debrief, Adam Bate examines how their tactics help make it possible

Image: Unai Emery has a fine record of balancing European commitments and Aston Villa's tactics help to explain that success

Much was made of Aston Villa's 4-0 defeat to Tottenham last month after playing Ajax in Amsterdam just days earlier but of the six Premier League games that Emery's side have played after away fixtures in Europe this season, they have now won the other five.

Part of the explanation offered for this impressive record is the knowhow of the four-time Europa League winning coach. His experience of the rhythms of continental competition has undoubtedly brought calm and a can-do attitude to this group.

However, listening to Bournemouth manager Andoni Iraola after watching Villa come from behind to win 3-1 at Villa Park on Sunday, extending their advantage over Spurs to six points, he had a more interesting and detailed explanation for how Emery is able to do it.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa's win against Bournemouth

"I knew that the physical thing was not going to be key," said Iraola.

"It is very difficult to open the game against Villa because they keep the game very well under control with the keeper, with Pau [Torres], with [Ezri] Konsa. They have a very good structure. They don't lose it, they have confidence in their build-up."

He added: "You could see against Lille, even with extra-time, there was nobody with cramp, nobody asking for changes. If you see the game [between Man] City and Real Madrid, there were seven or eight players asking to be changed. Villa games, normally, they keep it more controlled. And they do it very well."

The significance of a side's style of play on their ability to manage a hectic schedule can be overlooked but it is entirely logical. There are football matches and there are football matches. It is noticeable that Villa are often able to rest while in possession.

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Iraola referenced goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and, as well as his knack for winding up opponents, he is an expert at this. Villa supporters have learned to be patient when he is in possession because he will wait and wait to be pressed before releasing the ball.

The statistics show that Martinez has more time on the ball per possession than any other goalkeeper in the Premier League season. That passes the eye test. What is fascinating is that his total time in possession is more than anyone - outfield players included.

Aston Villa's Emiliano Martinez spends more time on the ball than any other Premier League player in total
Image: Emi Martinez spends more time on the ball than any other Premier League player

Martinez is well clear of those renowned ball-carrying defenders Ruben Dias and Lewis Dunk, his nearest rivals when it comes to time-on-the-ball numbers. The upshot is that the Argentinian goalkeeper has had the ball for over 90 minutes this season.

That is a full game during which his Villa team-mates can pause for breath. With Pau and Konsa also ranking among the top 10 outfield players in the Premier League for time on the ball this season, it helps to explain how they make the opposition do the work.

Emery's Villa can be explosive to watch, the pace of Ollie Watkins and the trickery of Leon Bailey being integral to their success this season. But only three teams have covered less ground in total in the Premier League. They work hard but they work smart.

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Unai Emery said he was very proud of Aston Villa’s players as well as the supporters

Emery simply ignored the subject of the physical demands when asked about it afterwards. When a second question came, he replied: "We had to create confidence here. Practising in the training sessions. Trying to get them to feel comfortable in our structure."

In other words, the same mantra that he has stuck to all season. Yes, Villa's players have been given Monday and Tuesday off in recognition of their workload. But that reflects the need for a mental break as much as a physical one following such a busy week.

This run of games had looked really awkward for his team. Momentum appeared to be against them as they visited an Arsenal side that were unbeaten in the Premier League in 2024. But Villa overcame them and followed it up by progressing in Europe.

Falling behind early against Bournemouth on Sunday could have been the twist in the tale for this team. After all, Emery had had made only two changes - both enforced - to the side that had gone the distance against Lille. Options on the bench were limited.

As it was, they dominated the second half and Emery did not make his first substitution until the 87th minute, by which point the game had been won. Another triumph for Aston Villa and the particular style of football that has helped them navigate this season.

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