Aston Villa have a new man in charge and it’s one that Manchester United know very well. Old foe Unai Emery has taken the hot seat and that’s certainly not music to their ears.
Villa sacked Steven Gerrard – after the comprehensive 3-0 battering handed out by Fulham last week made it six defeats in 11 games – less than a year since he left Rangers to take the job. The Midlands club have wasted little time in hiring his replacement and just three days later have managed to prise Emery away from Villarreal.
It marks Emery’s return to England three years on from leaving Arsenal and he has enjoyed considerable success at Villarreal in that time. Most notably, of course, he led the Yellow Submarine to an unlikely Europa League triumph in 2021, beating none other than United in the final in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out.
United struggled to break down the resolute defence Emery had built that night in Gdansk and that remained the case when the two sides were drawn together in last season’s Champions League group stage. United did run out victorious in both matches but it was far from easy.
They had to fight back from a goal down at Old Trafford and it was only a last-minute winner from Cristiano Ronaldo that saved their blushes and kept them in the race to qualify for the knockout stages. The reverse fixture was a more comfortable 2-0 win but it took 78 minutes to break them down.
Emery knows how to set his sides up in a tough, organised and pragmatic fashion and though there is little style in his football, it’s incredibly difficult to play against. United’s last three meetings with Emery have been turgid slogs of matches and the players who were involved will not be looking forward to facing him.
Which is unfortunate as United have a double-header against Villa coming up in November. On Sunday November 6, United will travel to Birmingham for Emery’s first home game in charge of his new side before they host the Villains at Old Trafford four days later in the Carabao Cup – giving him another opportunity to prevent the Reds from claiming some much-needed silverware.
If the recent past is anything to go by, those games just got a whole lot tougher.