Pundit backs Aston Villa to ‘break in’ to CL spots as previously ‘firing’ Newcastle ‘don’t look the same team’

Jason Soutar
Aston Villa players celebrate their goal against Fulham.
Aston Villa players celebrate their goal against Fulham.

Former Manchester City defender Micah Richards reckons Aston Villa could capitalise on Newcastle United’s poor form to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Aston Villa made it 13 home league wins on the bounce with a 3-1 victory over Fulham on Sunday.

Unai Emery has received plenty of praise for the incredible job he is doing in the Midlands.

The former Arsenal boss guided the Villans into the Europa Conference League, which they are the clear favourites to win ahead of teams like Fiorentina – last season’s finalists – and 2022 Europa League winners Eintracht Frankfurt.

Balancing the latter stages of the Conference League and the Premier League, on top of a potential FA Cup run, will be difficult for Emery and his players, though.

One of the latest former players to heap praise on Emery is ex-Villans defender Richards, who says the Spaniard is doing a “sensational” job.

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“I cannot believe what Unai Emery is doing at Aston Villa,” Richards told Sky Sports. “It’s sensational.

“They have some good players but to sustain this for as long as he has with the football that they have played.

“They have a really good system and have players who have been around the club a long time. The likes of John McGinn, he’s flourishing under a new manager.

“They just manage to keep going and going.”

On the race for a Champions League place, Richards said Villa could leapfrog Newcastle, who “don’t look the same team” with so many players out injured, losing 2-0 at Bournemouth on Saturday.

“It all depends on injuries,” he said on the race for a place.

“Newcastle were absolutely firing and they’ve got a few injuries and they don’t look the same team.

“Being in a lot of competitions was always going to hinder Newcastle this season.

“Maybe Aston Villa are the team to break in.”

Speaking on Sky Sports News, former Premier League striker Morrison said the Villans were “comfortable” against Fulham and claimed they “have a great opportunity” to qualify for Europe’s premier competition.

“Despite a better second-half performance, Fulham never really threatened to win that game,” Morrison said.

“Aston Villa were comfortable. That home form at Villa Park gets better and better.

“They are producing fluent performances and scoring bundles of goals.

“Unai Emery has done a fantastic job there. It’s another really positive performance from Villa.

“The only downside is the goal they conceded but Villa are flying. You can give them nothing but praise because they have been magnificent all season.

“I think it’s five teams that can get in the Champions League for next season. Aston Villa have a great opportunity. The way they are playing and the football they are producing, they can finish in the top five.”

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