Unai Emery may have to adjust his tactics to unleash Alex Moreno at Aston Villa

After being knocked out of the FA Cup by Stevenage last weekend, Aston Villa needed an answer against Leeds and they got one – even if it was flawed, chaotic and required a pinch of luck.

A 2-1 win ensured Unai Emery’s impressive start in life at Villa Park continued as he has scored 13 points from a possible 18 since his appointment in early November and there are signs that Emery’s vision is beginning to take shape.

Nowhere was this more evident than at the full-back, where Villa fans first saw Alex Moreno, who signed from Real Betis earlier in the week in a deal worth €15m (£13.2m; $16.1m) including add -Ons came. Moreno started on the bench, with Lucas Digne at left-back and Ashley Young at right-back, while Matty Cash, who was struggling with a strike, was absent from the matchday squad, although Emery’s transfer activity also raises questions about his future for the side.

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Sevilla loanee Ludwig Augustinsson has already been told by Emery he can return to Spain, while Digne – who was signed for £25m from Everton’s Steven Gerrard last January – may also be concerned about his chances of making the first-team stay.

“He was a very important player in La Liga,” Emery said of Moreno. “We have two left-backs, Lucas Digne and Ludwig Augustinsson, but the profile is similar to them. I spoke to Augustinsson about the possibility of leaving because I wanted to sign a different profile and was trying to be more offensive.

“Having a player in the offensive third who can use that side and play more offensively is the reason. We thought about other players but Alex Moreno is the player we wanted to focus on. I spoke to him (Augustinsson), the idea is to try to leave and get another option to play because here I wanted to improve that position with that profile.”

Moreno didn’t have to wait long for his debut after Digne was substituted off with a shoulder injury before the 10-minute mark against Leeds.


Lucas Digne walks away after suffering a shoulder injury (Picture: James Gill – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Having established himself as one of the best of his position in La Liga, Moreno was thrown straight into the action when Villa – already one goal from Leon Bailey’s curved shot – opted to play from behind despite continued pressure from Leeds. front line.

When he could, Moreno tried to offer the overlap and come up, facets of his game that distinguished him at Betis.

But Moreno seemed uncomfortable playing from behind, causing problems and pinning Villa in their own half. The pace of play and waste on the ball favored Leeds – so much so that after successive waves of away attacks, Emiliano Buendia trotted to the touchline to yell at a ball girl for feeding the ball too quickly to the visitors for a throw-in.


Alex Moreno’s touch map against Leeds (above) showed how ready he was to hit the pitch high

Amid the frantic pressure, Moreno was the hero as he stopped Rodrigo from turning the ball into an empty net after latching on to Jack Harrison’s through ball and circling Emi Martinez.

Moreno was able to get more up front in the second half as Emery made the tactical tweak to go man-to-man with Leeds, first putting in a cross for Danny Ings and then shooting on target himself.

Young had a similar experience on the right flank. He had few opportunities to get forward but had plenty to defend, making a crucial block of his own after Wilfried Gnonto followed up on a loose ball from Harrison’s save in the first half.

Young’s involvement in Bailey’s goal – he played a sensational crossfield ball on the counterattack to Boubacar Kamara from a Leeds corner – speaks to what he can offer in front of cash in the position, although he too has been exposed by a bewildering decision to play consistently was out the back.


Alex Moreno had a lot to defend against Leeds (Photo: Geoff Caddick/AFP via Getty Images)

Emery’s tactical change in the second half did little to reduce the immediate threat of this problem, which played straight into Leeds’ hands and left the manager bouncing up and down the touchline in frustration as his team sloppy possession.

But as he knows only too well from the events at Villa Park a week ago, the tide could soon turn. A lucky second goal for Villa came against the flow of play when Bailey’s saved shot was headed in by Buendia and missed after a VAR check. As the game started in Villa’s favour, Moreno was able to get more up front, missing a shot on a promising break and delivering a dangerous cross into the box before Patrick Bamford pulled one back and the game became more contained.

If Emery continues to play from behind he will need his defence, particularly Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa in the centre, who are quickly gaining confidence. Otherwise, problems are likely to persist and his full-backs will see their attacking contributions limited – the opposite intent of his decision to sign Moreno. However, with three points secured, these are worries for another day.

(Top photo: Alex Moreno in action on his Aston Villa debut; Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)

https://theathletic.com/4087680/2023/01/14/aston-villa-leeds-alex-moreno-debut/ Unai Emery may have to adjust his tactics to unleash Alex Moreno at Aston Villa

Russell Falcon

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