Aston Villa may have suffered a shock FA Cup defeat to League Two Stevenage last Sunday, but their league form has been on the rise under Unai Emery – so what’s behind the upturn?

Villa have won 10 points from a possible 15 ahead of their game against Leeds on Friday, live on Sky Sports.

To put that into context, only five teams have won more points since the Spaniard officially took over on November 1.

The biggest improvement appears to be in attack: the Villans have scored nine goals in five Premier League matches. In contrast, they found the back of the net just 11 times in their opening 13 games – of which, four came in the home win against Brentford under Aaron Danks on October 23.


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Villa are averaging 1.8 goals per game under their new boss, compared with just 0.6 goals per game this season under previous manager Steven Gerrard.

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What makes this more impressive is that Villa averaged higher in a number of attacking metrics under Gerrard. However, the big improvement in recent games has been in their shot conversion, which has soared threefold since Emery took charge.

One of the criticisms at the end of Gerrard’s time at the helm was the perceived lack of a preferred style of play or system.

In his 11 league games in charge this term, Gerrard used four different formations and 21 different players – with 4-3-3 his preferred starting system.

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Emery has stuck to a 4-4-2 formation in his five league games in charge, but has used 22 different players.

Midfielder John McGinn was the only outfield player to start every league game under Gerrard this season, while five have been named in all games under Emery: Ezri Konsa, Tyrone Mings, Lucas Digne, Douglas Luiz and Emi Buendia.

On the surface, a 4-4-2 formation appears more defensive – but this system has been fuelling Villa’s attacking players.

Leon Bailey, Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins have five goals and two assists between them in the Premier League under Emery. In the 11 games under Gerrard, the trio combined for just three goals and three assists.

Ings’ and Watkins’ strike-rates have soared under Emery and all three forwards have more touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes.

Watkins has scored three goals in eight appearances across all competitions under Danks and Emery this term, compared with one in 12 under Gerrard.

In the Premier League, Watkins had more touches per 90 minutes (33.7) under Gerrard during this period, compared with under Emery (28.1).

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However, a greater percentage of those touches have been in the opposition box under Emery (21.8 per cent) than they were under Gerrard (14.2 per cent).

The graphic below reveals how Watkins has boosted activity in central areas, further upfield.

The Villans also appear to have switched their preferred flank for launching attacks. The left channel was used more under Gerrard, but most of Villa’s attacks have come down their right under Emery.

All three of Emery’s Premier League wins with Villa have come against teams currently in the top eight and, generally this season, the Villans’ record has been better against top-half teams – with 13 points coming against teams currently in the top 10 and only nine against bottom-half sides.

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The Spaniard will be hoping there is no hangover from the Stevenage defeat when they face Jesse Marsch’s Leeds at Villa Park, as they look to improve their underwhelming record against bottom-half sides.