Unai Emery toasts ‘champagne moment’ as Aston Villa book European adventure
Unai Emery toasted Aston Villa’s “champagne moment” after they qualified for Europe for the first time since 2010.
The manager has sparked a turnaround at Villa Park having been appointed in October, after the club sacked Steven Gerrard sitting three points above the relegation zone.
Sunday’s 2-1 win over Brighton – who had already qualified for the Europa League – earned a Europa Conference League play-off spot after a seventh-placed finish in the Premier League.
Douglas Luiz and Ollie Watkins scored to seal their return, despite Deniz Undav’s strike for Brighton.
“Today is a champagne moment,” said Villa boss Emery.
“When you are working and focusing week-to-week, you are not having a lot of days to celebrate something, 70 per cent of our time was spent working.
“I want to celebrate with the club, players, friends, family and I want to enjoy what we have achieved.
“It was not the first objective in this year, our progression has been fantastic. We did it and it’s very important to celebrate and be happy now, to enjoy the moment in our life.
“We started thinking our progression was going well and some teams, they are not being consistent. When we won at Chelsea (a 2-0 win in April to move to ninth) we were with them and we were in 11th for a long time. It was the most difficult step going up.
“When we were in the top 10 we started thinking about getting sixth or seventh. Brighton did a great season, they deserve to be in the Europa League.”
Leon Bailey had already hit the bar before Luiz gave Villa an eight-minute lead, steering in Jacob Ramsey’s cross.
Undav had a goal disallowed after Julio Enciso was offside in the build-up before Watkins scored his 15th of the season to make it 2-0, tapping in after Ramsey’s driving run.
But Brighton hit back seven minutes before half-time when Undav collected Pascal Gross’ quick free-kick and finished past Emi Martinez – initially ruled offside before being overturned by VAR.
Ramsey should have made it 3-1 after the break, only to lift over from five yards with the goal gaping, and Jason Steele saved Watkins’ header.
Alexis Mac Allister drove wide but Brighton never tested Martinez as they finished their historic season with defeat.
But the Seagulls have bettered last term’s finish of ninth to finish sixth – the highest in their history – to also reach Europe for the first time.
At the end, a tearful Mac Allister, linked with Liverpool, left the pitch along with Caicedo for whom Brighton rejected a £70million offer from Arsenal in January and boss Roberto De Zerbi reiterated they could move on in the summer.
He said: “It can be the last game of Alexis and Moises Caicedo. I’m really sorry because they are two great people and great players. But the policy of Brighton is like this.
“It’s right they can leave, change team and play at a higher level. I don’t know but we are ready, we have to find other big players to play without Alexis and Moises.
“I love them and they are two big, big players but when I speak about my players, they can play in a big European team. For Brighton, we can still improve.
“We can bring other good players in and improve the same way. The Premier League will be tougher.
“We had different motivation than Aston Villa, we played well, with honour, with respect for the Premier League, respect for ourselves, for our fans, our club.
“Aston Villa deserved to qualify for the Conference League and we deserved to qualify for the Europa League.”
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