By Ian Parker, PA
Unai Emery knows Aston Villa must end their away day blues if they are to climb up the Premier League table.
Villa’s only victory on the road this season was a 4-1 Carabao Cup win over Bolton in August, but they could not repeat the trick on Thursday night as they twice blew a lead to lose 4-2 to Manchester United at Old Trafford and go out of the competition.
Villa will be back on the road on Sunday when they head to Brighton for their last match before the World Cup break, heading into the weekend 13th in the table but still only three points from the bottom three.
“The next step is clear – our challenge is to become competitive away, to win, and of course the consequence will be to give us three points,” the Spaniard said.
Emery began life as Villa boss with a 3-1 Premier League win over Manchester United last Sunday, and although he said he was encouraged by the early signs from his players after only a few days working with them, he is concerned by the way they have finished both matches – both in victory and defeat.
“They are very good players with the mentality to work,” he said. “They are very attentive… they are very open to listening to everything we are giving them about our idea.
“I think in these two matches there are a lot of things positive and some negative…
“(On Thursday) we were thinking we are in a good spirit and a good performance but we can lose everything we did in the first 75 minutes in the last 15 minutes. That is the consequence so we have to work.”
Sunday’s opponents Brighton are enjoying a new manager bounce of their own, albeit a delayed one with Graham Potter’s replacement Roberto De Zerbi having overseen three wins in a row after waiting five matches for the first.
“They are playing very good, they are working together with the same idea and style,” Emery said. “They changed the coach but the players are in a good way with a lot of confidence.
“It’s a challenge for us, but I like to have in front of us a challenge like Sunday because I think the only way for us to improve and show how we will achieve our capacity and a good result is to play against the good teams and the good players in a good moment.”
Sunday will bring the final Premier League games before the World Cup break. Tyrone Mings and Ollie Watkins missed out on Gareth Southgate’s England squad but Villa will still have up to five players heading to Qatar.
Matty Cash and Jan Bednarek are in the Poland squad and Leander Dendoncker will travel with Belgium, while Emi Buendia and Emi Martinez are expected to be confirmed in the Argentina squad once it is finalised.
But even with kick-off less than a week away by the time Villa head to Brighton, Emery expects to have his players’ full focus this weekend.
“We need it from everybody,” he said. “The players are going to go and we are happy because to play in the World Cup is amazing for them. You have to respect the national teams.
“But on Sunday we are playing a very important match with three points available.”