The big issues facing Unai Emery as he takes over at Aston Villa this week

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Aston Villa fans will hope it’s the trophy-winning Sevilla version of Unai Emery they are getting rather than the figure of fun who replaced Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

Having done away with Steven Gerrard following a dismal midweek display at Fulham, a cloud has been lifted and Emery is the man tasked with delivering sunshine. 

As Emery starts his first week as manager at Villa Park following the dismissal of Gerrard, Sportsmail looks at the challenges he faces with the Midlands giant slumped in 16th – only a point clear of the relegation zone

FINDING HIS BEST TEAM AND SYSTEM 

It’s significant that after only 13 matches, goalkeeper Emi Martinez is the only player who has started every league game for Villa this season, and we don’t know if he’ll be available for Emery’s first game against Manchester United because of concussion.

Too often, Gerrard struggled to stick to a consistent line-up and way of playing. 

Strikers Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins would be interchanged and sometimes the formation tweaked to accommodate both.

Gerrard was axed after a dismal display away at Fulham

Unai Emery (left) has several big issues to deal with after officially taking over at Aston Villa, succeeding Steven Gerrard (right), who was sacked after a dismal performance at Fulham

Ditto Emiliano Buendia and Philippe Coutinho. 

On occasion, Villa would line up with both playmakers – sometimes none. Usually, it was one or the other, but neither talent found the consistency to hit their best form.

Emery will have to learn about his squad quickly and find a defined way of playing. And if it means some big names are left out, as Erik ten Hag has done at Old Trafford, then so be it.

The Spaniard needs to find a way to solve the Coutinho- Buendia conundrum

Neither playmaker has managed to hit form consistently

The Spaniard needs to find a way to solve the Philippe Coutinho-Emiliano Buendia conundrum

CURE AWAY-DAY ILLS

Emery will be happy his first game is at Villa Park because away from home, they have been dreadful. 

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Seven matches on the road have yielded only two points, each one draws against fellow strugglers Leeds and Nottingham Forest.

It all started badly on the opening day at Bournemouth – ‘we lacked quality in the final third,’ bemoaned Gerrard after a 2-0 defeat – but it’s got even worse since then.

A 3-0 reverse at Fulham saw Gerrard sacked and interim Aaron Danks fared even worse at the weekend, losing 4-0 at Newcastle. 

Defensively fragile with a lack of firepower at the other end has been a disastrous combination, something the new manager has to change quickly.

After Saturday's 4-0 thrashing at Newcastle, Villa have got just two points away from home

After Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing at Newcastle, Villa have got just two points away from home

CO-ORDINATED TRANSFER POLICY 

Recruitment is the buzzword in the modern game but whichever phrase you use to describe transfers, Villa’s record is appalling.

The problems existed pre-Gerrard. They signed Watkins from Brentford and the next summer brought in Southampton’s Ings – not having worked out the preferred position of both men is centre-forward.

The £35million arrival of Buendia was a large investment by Villa’s standards and gave them an option at No 10. The subsequent arrival of Coutinho to fill the same position was questioned at the time and has not worked out.

This summer, Diego Carlos and Boubacar Kamara arrived and have hardly kicked a ball because of injury. That can be put down to bad luck but why Leander Dendoncker was signed from Wolves and not considered good enough to be an automatic starter was puzzling. 

In January, £25m was paid out on Lucas Digne – a decent left back but maybe not the priority at that price when they already had Matt Targett on the books.

Whoever is in charge of recruitment, whether it’s CEO Christian Purslow or the manager, there has to be better planning between them when Villa get the chequebook out.

The signing of Lucas Digne for £25m from Everton in January - when the club already had Matt Targett on the books - is symptomatic of an uncoordinated transfer policy at Villa Park

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The signing of Lucas Digne for £25m from Everton in January – when the club already had Matt Targett on the books – is symptomatic of an uncoordinated transfer policy at Villa Park

McGINN CAPTAINCY CONUNDRUM 

Gerrard loved McGinn – ‘the type you want alongside you when you go into battle’ – but the decision to give him the armband ahead of last season’s skipper Tyrone Mings has been a disaster.

The explanation was Mings would be able to concentrate on his own form without the responsibility of captaincy but instead McGinn’s performances dropped of a cliff and it was significant the first move by Danks after he took over was to drop the Scot, and Villa beat Brentford 4-0.

It’s unusual to change leaders midway through a season but it’s a big call Emery has to make. 

He needs McGinn at his best for Villa to climb the table and if the dynamic of having him captain is blocking that, Emery should look at it.

John McGinn replaced Tyrone Mings as captain in the summer but his form has fallen off

John McGinn replaced Tyrone Mings as captain in the summer but his form has fallen off

COMMUNICATION 

Emery was unfairly mocked at Arsenal for having a strong Spanish accent when he spoke English. 

His reputation remains high on the continent, winning a fourth Europa League with Villarreal in 2021, but he’ll need to improve on his communication skills in the Premier League, if not for the media, then at least to the players.

He certainly has the backing of Villa fans who see him as an upgrade on Gerrard but the honeymoon period won’t last long given the frustrations those supporters have had for a few years.

While he was Arsenal manager, Unai Emery was often unfairly mocked for his Spanish accent

While he was Arsenal manager, Unai Emery was often unfairly mocked for his Spanish accent

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THE COUTINHO CONUNDRUM 

The signing of Coutinho – once a £135m Barcelona player – was meant to represent the new era for Villa and their billionaire owners. Though he’s shown his quality in patches, the Brazilian has fallen short of the standards set at Liverpool.

He’s not scored for the club this season and even his biggest champion, Gerrard, left him on the bench for his final game at Fulham.

The dilemma for any manager is that you either build a team around the gifted midfielder, or you don’t use him at all. There doesn’t seem to be a halfway house.

Emery struggled to get the best out of Mesut Ozil, also a declining force at the time, at Arsenal. 

Coutinho is now 30, the manager has to decide whether he still has the hunger and appetite to make best use of his skills, or if it’s best now for Villa to move forward with the likes of McGinn, Jacob Ramsey, Buendia and any other players they may sign.

The Brazilian playmaker was once a £135m player - Emery needs to decide what to do with him

The Brazilian playmaker was once a £135m player – Emery needs to decide what to do with him

SCORE! 

Only Wolves and Nottingham Forest have fewer goals than Villa’s 11 in 13 Premier League games. 

Emery will work hard to find out the right balance. 

When you’ve got Ings, Watkins and Leon Bailey to call upon, it’s bizarre that none of them should have more than four goals by this stage.

Explaining the dismissal of Gerrard, Purslow said the manager hadn’t fulfilled his side of the bargain when they had ‘set an objective of continuous improvement.’ Emery has been warned.

Villa have netted just 11 times in 13 league games despite having such rich attacking talent like  Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins (left and right) - and Emery needs to get his side scoring goals

Villa have netted just 11 times in 13 league games despite having such rich attacking talent like  Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins (left and right) – and Emery needs to get his side scoring goals

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