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Unai Emery challenges Villa to step up in ‘must win’ HSK Zrinjski Mostar clash

Unai Emery challenges Villa to step up in 'must win' HSK Zrinjski Mostar clash

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery has challenged his side to rise to the occasion ahead of their Europa Conference League clash against HSK Zrinjski Mostar on Thursday.

The Villans lost 3-2 against Polish giants Legia Warszawa in their Group E curtain-raiser two weeks ago, marking their Conference League debut with a shocking defeat.

Emery will hope the result of their opening fixture was only a blip on the radar but has warned his side that nothing but maximum points will do as they prepare to welcome Zrinjski to Villa Park.

“We must win tomorrow,” said the Spanish head coach during his pre-match press conference (via Birmingham Live). “The first match we played and we lost. 

“It’s more important as we lost the first opportunity to get three points. Legia were with three points, and we have to fight tomorrow and against AZ Alkmaar and Legia again.

“We will need the points, and tomorrow, the three points we are going to face is only that opportunity. It’s not to think playing under pressure – it’s thinking to play needing to play well and with personality and to impose our idea.”

Despite having to play nearly every three days due to their European commitments, Emery insists he has no problems with the workload, hinting that he could field a strong line-up in the Thursday encounter.

“I don’t think it’s a problem to play on Wednesday, Tuesday or Thursday and then on Saturday or Sunday because we are demanding always the coaches,” Emery added.

“If we will need to play with the same players on Thursday and Sunday, they will be ready and they will be available to do it. 

“I like more work for them and more work for me preparing each match, travelling, trying to be focused and to get full energy each match. 

“I have to be clever myself with the player trying to get with the same players or different players the performance we need.”

Emery also tipped Villa’s top goalscorer Ollie Watkins to earn a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad following his exceptional burst of form over the last few weeks.

Watkins opened his Premier League account in the win over Chelsea and followed it up with a sublime hat-trick in the 6-1 mauling against Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend.

The Englishman is in line to retain his place in the starting XI in the Thursday showdown, and Emery waxed lyrical about his hard work and importance to the team.

“I am very happy with him – his commitment with the club is really great, and he’s been always ready to learn, and he is still humble to work hard and to try to get better always,” Emery said.

“When he is scoring it is very good for the team. When he is not scoring, he is always working well. He is always doing his work like we are demanding of him. 

“He is closer to go with the national team because he has started very good this season. Even when we didn’t score in other matches, he was working very well and sometimes because the opponent goalkeeper is doing very good work.”

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