Aston Villa strengthened their grip on a top-four position in the Premier League with a pulsating 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest.

Villa have their sights firmly set on Champions League qualification and a first home league win of 2024 saw them move five points clear of Tottenham in fifth.

Ollie Watkins and Douglas Luiz’s double saw them cruise into a 3-0 first-half lead only for Forest to scare them with goals either side of half-time through Moussa Niakhate and Morgan Gibbs-White.

But Leon Bailey struck on the hour to give Villa breathing space and they saw it out to give themselves a cushion over the chasing pack.

Forest were lucky still to be in the game at half-time after being overrun in the first 40 minutes but improved after the break and had enough chances to scrape a point, which would have been handy in their battle against relegation.

Villa needed less than four minutes to go in front as Watkins scored his 14th of the season.

This was one of his easiest finishes, though, thanks to the work of Bailey, who gave him a simple tap-in after being played in down the right and making light work of Murillo.

Watkins could have had his second six minutes later as Villa advanced down the other side, but the England striker’s shot from Jacob Ramsey’s cut-back was blocked on the line by Niakhate.

Villa’s second goal came just before the half-hour and again was built on the right as Cash passed to Ramsey, who teed up Luiz to sweep into the corner.

Forest skipper Gibbs-White summoned his team for a huddle after that went in and gave an impassioned speech, but it had little impact as Villa went three up in the 39th minute.

John McGinn sent in a delightful cross from a recycled corner for Luiz to plant a free header into the corner for his second of the match.

Forest gave themselves a lifeline in first-half injury time as Taiwo Awoniyi headed a corner back across goal and Niakhate chested the ball over the line from close range.

They made three changes at half-time and it had the perfect impact as they made it 3-2 shortly after the restart when substitute Divock Origi slipped Gibbs-White through and he clipped by Emiliano Martinez.

Moments later it should have been 3-3 as Anthony Elanga was sent clear by Origi but dragged his shot wide.

Villa had been like rabbits in the headlights but they began to reassert themselves and almost scored a fourth when Alex Moreno teed up Youri Tielemans, but the Belgian stroked his effort into the post.

The hosts did take control again on the hour as they made it 4-2, with Forest shooting themselves in the foot.

Playing out from the back, Andrew Omobamidele passed to Tielemans, who slipped in Watkins and when Matz Selz came out to block the loose ball it fell to Bailey who had a simple tap-in.

Aston Villa have confirmed Leon Bailey has signed a new contract with the club.

The 26-year-old Reggae Boyz attacker has been in sensational form this season and is playing the best football of his career to date. He has made 32 appearances in all competitions so far this term, recording 19 goal contributions across those games.

His 13 goal involvements in the Premier League is already more than what he managed in his first two seasons at the club combined.

Bailey joined Villa for £30 million in the summer of 2021 from Bayer Leverkusen. He was one of three players targeted by Villa to replace the void left behind by Jack Grealish, who joined Manchester City for £100 million.

Injuries marred his first campaign with Villa as he only started seven times and scored on just one occasion.

Last season, Bailey improved following the arrival of Unai Emery, and played his role in helping the club qualify for European football with a seventh-placed finish.

What the papers say

Raphael Varane is reportedly the latest big name attracting a wealth of interest from Saudi Arabia. The Daily Star says Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr are hoping to reunite the Manchester United defender with his former Real Madrid and Red Devils team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, with an offer believed to be in the region of £50million a year.

The Independent reports Kylian Mbappe‘s contract negotiations with Real Madrid have hit a stumbling block. According to the paper, the two parties are yet to come to terms on the 25-year-old striker’s wage package, with an agreement believed to be a way off. However, there is belief amongst all involved – including Mbappe’s current club Paris St Germain – that a deal to take the France captain to Spain will eventually be made.

And The Telegraph reports Aston Villa has reached a verbal agreement on a new long-term contract for Jamaica winger Leon Bailey.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Raphinha: Journalist Paul O’Keefe says on X the Barcelona attacker is being carefully monitored by Tottenham.

Hwang Ui-jo: The Nottingham Forest striker has agreed terms to spend the rest of the season on loan at Turkish side Alanyaspor, reports Turkish outlet Sports Digitale.

Reggae Boyz forward Leon Bailey is set to sign a new contract with English Premier League (EPL) club Aston Villa.

Discussions have been planned over a new deal since December, with Bailey keen to commit his long-term future to the Villains.

Bailey’s existing contract, due to expire in June 2025, was signed when he joined Villa from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen for a fee in the region of £30million (now $37.7m) in the summer of 2021.

The 26-year-old struggled with injuries during his first year at Villa Park, making only seven Premier League starts and a further 11 appearances off the bench in the 2021-22 season.

He played more regularly last season under Steven Gerrard and then Unai Emery, registering four goals and four assists in 33 league games.

This season, though, has been his most productive at Villa, with his 10 goals in all competitions second only to Ollie Watkins’ 16 at the West Midlands club.

Bailey previously played for Belgian side Genk before joining Leverkusen in 2017. He scored 39 goals in 156 games for the German club before leaving for Villa.

Bailey’s importance to Villa has grown over the winter months, with head coach Unai Emery having been keen to develop the Jamaican’s consistency away from home.

Bailey has become Villa’s most threatening forward, scoring or assisting at an average of every 78 minutes this season.

“His potential is amazing,” says Emery. “Progressively, he’s getting better and he’s humbled to listen and improve. His qualities and skill… sometimes when we play at home, we watch him and think, ‘Wow, what a player’.”

Bailey has largely operated from the right wing this season, scoring 10 times and registering nine assists across 31 appearances. In Villa’s 4-2-2-2 system, the Jamaican’s pace has provided a key outlet on transition, stretching play alongside Watkins.

Internationally, Bailey has played 30 times for Jamaica, having made his senior debut in 2019. He has scored five goals for the Reggae Boyz.

 

 

 

Aston Villa returned to winning ways in style as they put Sheffield United to the sword with four goals in the opening 30 minutes in a 5-0 romp at Bramall Lane.

Villa’s Premier League top-four hopes had faltered after winning just one of their last five matches but Unai Emery’s men put that right to move above Tottenham and back into fourth.

Goals from John McGinn, Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans before the half-hour put them in dreamland and Alex Moreno’s second-half goal made it a day to remember for Villa, who registered their biggest Premier League away win since 2004.

At one point they would have had history in their sights as they had more than 45 minutes to try and find four more goals which would have equalled the record victory in the Premier League era, but they took their foot off the gas.

Still, it was bad enough for Sheffield United on another embarrassing day for the club, just four months after they were beaten 8-0 by Newcastle at Bramall Lane.

Boss Chris Wilder will surely know his side will be playing in the Championship next season as they have taken just 10 points from 23 games and are the same number away from safety.

Villa will hope to use this as a springboard for the rest of the campaign as they eye Champions League qualification for the first time.

It was the vision of Douglas Luiz that enabled them to take a two-goal lead within 16 minutes.

First, the midfielder sliced open Sheffield United’s defence with a fine pass which set Watkins through on goal. The England international lifted the ball over the on-rushing Wes Foderingham and onto the post, with McGinn tucking the rebound into an empty net.

Luiz’s assist for the second goal four minutes later was even more eye-catching as he again played in Watkins with an outrageous pass with the outside of his boot and this time the striker found the bottom corner.

It was 3-0 four minutes later with another goal of quality as Bailey cut inside and whipped a brilliant left-footed strike into the top corner.

A section of the home fans were fearing a repeat of that Newcastle nightmare and left the ground and even more headed for the exit 10 minutes later when Tielemans made it 4-0 with another picturebook goal.

The Belgian found acres of space on the edge of the area from a corner, took a touch and then rifled in off the underside of the crossbar to complete a dream half-hour.

Villa needed 83 seconds of the second half to make it five, as some slapdash defending from Auston Trusty allowed Watkins to tee up Moreno to volley home from close range.

United were at least able to stem the tide and threatened to get on the scoresheet but Emiliano Martinez saved from Anel Ahmedhodzic and Jack Robinson.

Their misery was complete late on in the game when Vini Souza poked home from a set-piece but VAR ruled it out for offside.

Leon Bailey is set for contract talks at Aston Villa thanks to his sparkling recent form for Unai Emery's title challengers.

The Jamaican was among those Villa were willing to let go last summer but he has developed into a key player this term, scoring six goals and providing five assists to help Emery's men into second, three points behind leaders Liverpool.

Bailey joined Villa in 2021 for about £25million with part of the proceeds from the £100m sale of Jack Grealish to Manchester City, and signed an initial four-year deal thought to include options for extension.

But so impressive has Bailey been in the autumn and winter that Villa are keen to reward him with fresh terms and elevate him closer to Villa's top bracket of earners, which includes Emi Martinez, Tyrone Mings, Moussa Diaby and Ollie Watkins. 

Since Emery replaced Steven Gerrard in October 2022, Villa's wage bill has increased significantly, with Mings, Watkins, Martinez, John McGinn and Ezri Konsa among the players who have had big pay rises.

Bailey scored as Villa beat Burnley 3-2 in their final game of 2023, though he is likely to be among several players given a breather for Saturday's FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough. 

He said: “I'm very pleased with the way things are going for me personally. 

“I'm here to help the team as much as possible. Whenever I'm called upon, I'm here.

“I am used to the games coming so quickly like this. I've always been playing in both domestic competitions and in Europe. 

“So it's tough on your body but this is what we are in the game to do.”

 

To say that Jamaican international Leon Bailey is in the form of his life at Aston Villa, would be an understatement.

The lively winger has enjoyed life under Head coach Unai Emery and, as such, continues to display his immense potential, particularly at the backend of 2023. Bailey's remarkable performances, which has assisted Aston Villa to end the year in second position on the English Premier League standings, also resulted in him being voted Player-of-the-Month for December.

This achievement is another testament of Bailey's exceptional skills, hard work, and significant contribution to the team’s success this season. Villa is currently on 42 points, three points behind leaders Liverpool, on 45 points.

 

According to a statistics sheet released a month ago, Bailey had the highest impact per minute played in the English Premier League. The former Bayern Leverkusen player has also racked up six goals to match his five assists in his 18 games for Aston Villa.

Since the start of the season, Bailey, 26, has established himself as a key player for in Emery's side, and his performances, coupled with his ability to score at crucial times, has made him a fan favourite. Interestingly, he was also voted Player-of-the-Month for December in 2022.

With blistering pace, dribbling ability, and accurate crosses, Bailey has been a menace to opposition defence throughout the season. During the months of November and December, Bailey displayed a different level of consistency and played an instrumental role in Aston Villa’s run of form.

Bailey's goal-scoring exploits and creativity in the final third were pivotal to the team’s victories during this period, which saw Villa beating the likes of Manchester City and Arsenal, and he was again on the scoresheet, as they capped 2023 with a 3-2 win over Burnley.

Not only did Bailey contribute with goals and assists, but his overall impact on the team was also evident. He showcased awareness, vision, and good decision-making abilities, often creating scoring opportunities for his teammates, and will certainly be a force to reckon with, provided he continues in the same vein.

Aston Villa scored a late penalty to beat strugglers Burnley 3-2 and move second in the Premier League before Manchester United slumped to a 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest.

Villa – who lost 3-2 at Manchester United on Boxing Day after leading 2-0 – went ahead in the 28th minute through Leon Bailey.

The Clarets were back on level terms just three minutes later when Zeki Amdouni fired home from close range following a free-kick.

Burnley had the ball in the net again, but Lyle Foster’s effort was ruled out for offside before Moussa Diaby then added a second for Villa in the 42nd minute.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men in the 56th minute when midfielder Sander Berge was given a second caution for tugging back Douglas Luiz.

Foster, though, hauled Burnley level with 20 minutes left – this time his goal allowed to stand following a VAR review.

Just when it looked like Vincent Kompany’s men would hold out for a welcome point, Aaron Ramsey fouled Jhon Duran to concede an 89th-minute penalty. Luiz sent his spot-kick on to the underside of the crossbar and into the roof of the net to secure another home win for Villa.

In Saturday’s late kick-off, Manchester United were beaten 2-1 at Nottingham Forest, who secured a second straight win for new boss Nuno Espirito Santo. After a low-key first half, Forest went ahead just after the hour when Nicolas Dominguez swept in a low cross from Gonzalo Montiel.

United were level in the 78th minute after a poor clearance from Forest keeper Matt Turner was punished as Alejandro Garnacho squared for Marcus Rashford to equalise.

Forest, though, were back in front again just four minutes later when Morgan Gibbs-White curled a fine strike into the far corner to leave United in seventh place – nine points off the top four.

Manchester City beat Sheffield United 2-0 at the Ethiad Stadium to move third, above Arsenal on goal difference.

Rodri gave City the lead in the 14th minute with a low finish into the bottom corner after good hold-up play by Phil Foden.

Midfielder Jack Grealish – whose Cheshire home had been burgled while he was away playing at Everton on Wednesday night – was taken off early in the second half and replaced by Oscar Bobb.

Julian Alvarez doubled City’s lead just after the hour from close range after Bobb had played in Foden.

Earlier, Chelsea survived a spirited late fightback by Luton to win 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

Mauricio Pochettino’s team had looked to be cruising to a first away victory since early November following a brace from Cole Palmer – his second goal showing fine close control – either side of Noni Madueke’s strike just before half-time.

Luton, though, set up a tense final 10 minutes after Ross Barkley scored against his former club before Elijah Adebayo pulled another back late on, but the Blues held out.

Michael Olise scored twice as Crystal Palace returned to winning ways after coming from behind to beat Brentford 3-1 at Selhurst Park.

Keane Lewis-Potter fired the Bees into an early lead after just two minutes, the goal given following a lengthy VAR check for a possible offside.

Palace were soon back on level terms in the 14th minute when Olise volleyed in at the back post before Eberechi Eze completed the turnaround shortly before half-time.

Olise fired in a well-taken second from the edge of the penalty area in the 58th minute as Palace ended an eight-match winless run.

Wolves maintained their good form with a 3-0 win over relegation-battlers Everton at Molineux.

Captain Max Kilman put Wolves in front in the 25th minute following a scramble in the penalty area, which was only his second goal for the club. The players celebrated by holding up a shirt in support of Mario Lemina following the death of his father.

Wolves doubled their lead early in the second half through a close-range finish from Matheus Cunha and Craig Dawson added a third on the hour.

Hwang Hee-chan and Pedro Neto both saw goals disallowed for offside as Gary O’Neil’s well-drilled went on to close out a third straight win.

Unai Emery stressed his aim heading into the new year is to get better after Aston Villa concluded their “really fantastic” 2023 with a 3-2 home victory over Burnley.

Douglas Luiz notched the winner against the 10-man Clarets with an 89th-minute penalty as Villa moved level on points with Premier League leaders Liverpool, ahead of the Reds hosting Newcastle on New Year’s Day.

It was the midland outfit’s 26th top-flight win of 2023 and a club-record 32nd victory in all competitions across the calendar year.

And boss Emery, when asked if he thought 2024 could be even better, said: “Always the idea is to improve and get better.

“It was really fantastic, the year we did – but I’m very excited for the next match.

“We have 42 points and we can feel comfortable and happy, but…my expectation for the next year is try to progress. I am going to manage how we can progress.”

He added: “When I arrived here (in late 2022) the message always was get better, try to play Europe, try to be a contender to be in the top 10, in the top seven, now we are top four.

“We are not contented to be in the top seven, top four in the Premier League, but we are in at the moment and if on (match)day 30, 32 we are in, maybe we can think it is our opportunity to get it.”

Villa led at the break thanks to a 42nd-minute Moussa Diaby finish after Leon Bailey’s opener for the hosts had been cancelled out by Zeki Amdouni.

Burnley suffered a further setback with Sander Berge being sent off early in the second half, but it looked as if it could prove a frustrating afternoon for Villa after Lyle Foster drew things level again in the 71st minute.

Luiz then netted from the spot late on following a foul by former Villa man Aaron Ramsey on fellow substitute John Duran, and Emery declared that the “satisfaction is high” with his team having “reacted very well in the first half and the second”.

Aston Villa scored a late penalty to beat strugglers Burnley 3-2 and move second in the Premier League.

Villa – who lost 3-2 at Manchester United on Boxing Day after leading 2-0 – went ahead in the 28th minute through Leon Bailey.

The Clarets were back on level terms just three minutes later when Zeki Amdouni fired home from close range following a free-kick.

Burnley had the ball in the net again, but Lyle Foster’s effort was ruled out for offside before Moussa Diaby then added a second for Villa in the 42nd minute.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men in the 56th minute when midfielder Sander Berge was given a second caution for tugging back Douglas Luiz.

Foster, though, hauled Burnley level with 20 minutes left – this time his goal allowed to stand following a VAR review.

Just when it looked like Vincent Kompany’s men would hold out for a welcome point, Aaron Ramsey fouled Jhon Duran to concede an 89th-minute penalty. Luiz sent his spot-kick on to the underside of the crossbar and into the roof of the net to secure another home win for Villa.

Manchester City beat Sheffield United 2-0 at the Ethiad Stadium to move third, above Arsenal on goal difference.

Rodri gave City the lead in the 14th minute with a low finish into the bottom corner after good hold-up play by Phil Foden.

Midfielder Jack Grealish – whose Cheshire home had been burgled while he was away playing at Everton on Wednesday night – was taken off early in the second half and replaced by Oscar Bobb.

Julian Alvarez doubled City’s lead just after the hour from close range after Bobb had played in Foden.

Earlier, Chelsea survived a spirited late fightback by Luton to win 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

Mauricio Pochettino’s team had looked to be cruising to a first away victory since early November following a brace from Cole Palmer – his second goal showing fine close control – either side of Noni Madueke’s strike just before half-time.

Luton, though, set up a tense final 10 minutes after Ross Barkley scored against his former club before Elijah Adebayo pulled another back late on, but the Blues held out.

Michael Olise scored twice as Crystal Palace returned to winning ways after coming from behind to beat Brentford 3-1 at Selhurst Park.

Keane Lewis-Potter fired the Bees into an early lead after just two minutes, the goal given following a lengthy VAR check for a possible offside.

Palace were soon back on level terms in the 14th minute when Olise volleyed in at the back post before Eberechi Eze completed the turnaround shortly before half-time.

Olise fired in a well-taken second from the edge of the penalty area in the 58th minute as Palace ended an eight-match winless run.

Wolves maintained their good form with a 3-0 win over relegation-battlers Everton at Molineux.

Captain Max Kilman put Wolves in front in the 25th minute following a scramble in the penalty area, which was only his second goal for the club. The players celebrated by holding up a shirt in support of Mario Lemina following the death of his father.

Wolves doubled their lead early in the second half through a close-range finish from Matheus Cunha and Craig Dawson added a third on the hour.

Hwang Hee-chan and Pedro Neto both saw goals disallowed for offside as Gary O’Neil’s well-drilled went on to close out a third straight win.

Aston Villa moved level on points with Premier League leaders Liverpool as Douglas Luiz’s late penalty secured a 3-2 home win over 10-man Burnley.

Villa led at the break thanks to a Moussa Diaby finish after Leon Bailey’s 28th-minute opener for the hosts had been cancelled out three minutes later by Zeki Amdouni.

Burnley suffered a further setback with Sander Berge sent off early in the second half, but it looked as if it could prove a frustrating afternoon for Villa after Lyle Foster drew things level again in the 71st minute.

Luiz then had the final say, converting from the spot with a minute of normal time remaining, as Unai Emery’s side moved up a place to second in the table, joining Liverpool on 42 points ahead of the Reds hosting Newcastle on New Year’s Day.

The 26th league win of their superb 2023 under Emery saw the midlands outfit bounce back from the 3-2 Boxing Day loss at Manchester United, with normal service resumed at Villa Park after the 1-1 draw with Sheffield United on December 22 had ended a club-record run of 15 consecutive home league wins.

Vincent Kompany’s Burnley, meanwhile, remain second-bottom, five points adrift of safety.

Villa had a couple of opportunities in the opening quarter-hour, with Diaby sending a volley wide and another from Ollie Watkins saved by James Trafford.

Burnley were then forced into an early change as Jordan Beyer was replaced by Hannes Delcroix, before starting to show some threat as Josh Brownhill struck wide and quickly brought a save out of Emiliano Martinez.

Within moments Villa were ahead, Watkins cutting into the box from the left and laying the ball to Bailey who took a touch and fired past Trafford via a deflection.

The lead proved short-lived, with Burnley hitting back almost immediately through Amdouni’s hooked effort after Dara O’Shea had headed a free-kick across goal.

The visitors then had the ball in the net again in the 37th minute, but Foster’s finish was ruled out for offside.

Villa regained the advantage five minutes later with Watkins again the creator, the England striker fashioning the cut-back from which Diaby turned the ball home.

Following Foster and Amdouni efforts saved by Martinez either side of the interval, Burnley were reduced to 10 men in the 56th minute when Berge collected a second yellow card having tugged at the shirt of Luiz.

Diaby curled over soon after before Foster prodded wide following a possible handball by Diego Carlos just outside the box that brought no action from referee Stuart Attwell.

Villa cranked up the pressure as Trafford denied John McGinn and Diaby before Luiz, Jacob Ramsey and Diaby, twice, shot off target.

The hosts were then left ruing that as Foster held off Alex Moreno and fired in for his first goal since returning to action after an eight-match absence in which he had been receiving care for his mental health.

It appeared as if Villa’s wastefulness might cost them, but as stoppage time drew near a challenge by former Villa man Aaron Ramsey on fellow substitute Jhon Duran prompted Attwell to point to the spot and Luiz converted the penalty with a shot that bounced down off the bar to ensure a fine calendar year ended on a high for Emery’s team.

Aston Villa's head coach, Unai Emery, has moved to calm concerns over the fitness of Jamaican sensation Leon Bailey after the winger was substituted at halftime during their pivotal 1-0 victory over Arsenal at Villa Park.

Bailey, who provided the crucial assist for John McGinn's seventh-minute goal, raised eyebrows when he did not emerge from the tunnel for the second half.

Emery addressed the situation in the post-match press conference, providing insight into Bailey's condition. Despite the initial worry among Villa fans, Emery hinted that fatigue rather than injury might be the reason for the substitution.

"He was tired, completely tired! Hopefully, he's not injured, but I don't know exactly," Emery reassured, offering a glimmer of hope regarding Bailey's well-being.

Bailey's impactful performance against Arsenal came on the heels of his winning goal against Manchester City last Wednesday night. His ability to make a difference in crucial matches has quickly endeared him to Villa supporters.

However, the Jamaican international has battled injury concerns since joining Aston Villa from Bayer Leverkusen in the summer of 2021. Despite these challenges, Bailey has remarkably missed just one league match throughout the season, sitting out the 6-1 win over Brighton and Hove Albion back in September.

The timing of Bailey's potential setback raises questions about his availability for the upcoming Europa Conference League clash against Zrinjski on Thursday night.

The hope is that Bailey's early substitution against Arsenal was a precautionary measure to manage fatigue rather than a recurrence of his injury struggles. As Villa pursues success on multiple fronts, including European competition, the fitness of key players like Leon Bailey remains a critical factor in their aspirations for a successful campaign.

CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani believes next year's Copa America will serve as perfect preparation for the 2026 World Cup.

Joining the 10 South American teams in the 2024 Copa America, which will be held in the United States, will be six teams from CONCACAF.

The USA, Mexico, Jamaica and Panama are already assured of their places in the tournament, with Costa Rica or Honduras and Canada or Trinidad and Tobago to take the remaining two spots.

With the expanded, 48-team World Cup in 2026 also taking place in North America, CONCACAF president Montagliani hopes the Copa America presents the perfect opportunity for the federation's teams to prepare.

"It's evidence of when leadership and two very important confederations come together and put football first. The game is going to win here because you're going to have a great tournament next year," Montagliani told Concacaf.com.

"I think we realised early on that we needed to make sure that we made our own competitions better, like our Nations League, our Gold Cup.

"This was an opportunity, after speaking with my counterpart, Alejandro Dominguez, to come together and partner with them, not just on the men's side like we have now with Copa America, but also on the women's side with a Women's Gold Cup.

"This fits in well with our strategy to increase not only the quantity of competitions, but also the quality of competitions, and this will help our teams prepare for the World Cup in our backyard.

"FIFA is also going to have the Club World Cup here in 2025 and I think from a fan's perspective, I'm not sure we've ever had this, so it's a great time to be involved in the game, at whatever level you are.

"I think it's a bit of a coming out party for our region. Obviously, we've struggled in the past at many levels, but I think, as I said a long time ago, for the work we've done in the last six years, we deserve the right to think long-term.

"We also now deserve the right to enjoy the present and all the football that is coming our way."

Reigning Copa and world champions Argentina were placed in Group A in Thursday's draw, alongside Peru, Chile and Canada or Trinidad and Tobago. The USA will face Uruguay, Panama and Bolivia in Group C, while Brazil will go up against Colombia, Paraguay and Costa Rica or Honduras in Group D.

Two CONCACAF teams should also fancy their chances of progressing from Group B, with Mexico and Jamaica – who count the likes of Leon Bailey, Michail Antonio and Demarai Gray in their squad – going up against Venezuela and Ecuador.

The draw opened up as such that another Argentina-Brazil final could be on the cards.

Unai Emery was trying to keep a lid on the excitement levels after his Aston Villa side outclassed stuttering Manchester City in Wednesday’s 1-0 win to move above the defending champions and into third place.

Leon Bailey’s deflected strike in the 74th minute was enough to seal a 14th straight home win for Villa and add to the growing sense of belief that something special is brewing in the west Midlands.

Pep Guardiola declared that Emery’s side should “definitely” be considered among the title contenders after watching his depleted side struggle to contain a Villa team who had 22 shots at goal to City’s two.

But Emery played down any title talk and insisted there is still much work to do in developing his side, who face leaders Arsenal at home on Saturday.

“We created lots of chances and we controlled the attack in the high press,” Emery said. “We were believing. In my career, hopefully more in the next weeks, months and years I can continue improving as a coach and with the team I am trying to build.

“(The performance) was fantastic but we must keep a balance. The dressing room is happy, but the next challenge is on Saturday. (On Thursday) we are focusing again on Saturday.”

Wednesday night was Emery’s 50th game in charge. When the Spaniard arrived a little more than a year ago, Villa were near the foot of the table and fearing a relegation battle but he took them into the Europa Conference League and now the Champions League looks a genuine possibility.

Asked to reflect on his first 50 games, Emery pointed to last February, when back-to-back 4-2 home defeats at the hands of Leicester and Arsenal offered a learning moment.

“I can come back in my mind and think how we were when we started this process,” he said. “We lost against Leicester and Arsenal at home, 4-2. We couldn’t concede eight goals in two matches at home like we did.

“It was a key moment when we reacted in a meeting with the players, focusing more our idea and our style, building and being very demanding in it. I think the players, they reacted very well and the way we did, we started doing in that moment, I think we are still being very demanding and keeping it.”

City boss Pep Guardiola was full of praise for Villa’s performance but admitted he needed to change the dynamic of his own side, now winless in four league outings as they lose ground in their title defence.

The absence of Rodri and Jack Grealish through suspension, plus the loss of Jeremy Doku to injury, limited Guardiola’s options and they lost the midfield battle.

“In the first half, we struggled to follow what we spoke (about),” Guardiola said. “We adjusted something at half-time and it was much better and the team had a better dynamic but we didn’t find the players to make the assist or cross or pass.”

“We didn’t have the feeling that we are going to do something and we missed it…We have to accept it when a team is better and recognise it.

“We have to change the dynamic on Sunday at Luton.”

Unai Emery insisted it was too soon to call his Aston Villa side Premier League title contenders after a 1-0 win over Manchester City lifted them above the defending champions and into third place.

Leon Bailey’s deflected strike in the 74th minute proved to be the winner as Villa equalled a club record with a 14th consecutive home victory.

Pep Guardiola said Villa could “definitely” be among those still in the fight come the end of the season but Emery insisted they still have much work to do to catch up with the likes of City, Arsenal and Liverpool.

“We are not contenders,” he said.

“There are seven teams who are contenders more than us. Now we are on game 15. We are going to play game 16 on Saturday against Arsenal and we are going to focus on it. We are happy to be third but to keep it is going to be very, very difficult.

“While we are there we are going to try to keep it. If we keep progressing during the season, playing matches and winning like we are doing maybe we can be a contender but I think we need more time.

“We can believe but we are not contenders. There are another seven teams and that didn’t change. It is game 15. Maybe by game 30 or 32, but not yet.”

The win gave Emery his first over Guardiola as a rival coach at the 14th attempt, 15 years to the day since they first came up against one another.

“Always I like to prepare matches against the best teams, the best players and the best coaches,” Emery said.

“When you are playing in a high level the opponents are of a high level. But beating him for me is not something special. It is really a process I am doing as a coach.”

Defeat left City winless in their last four league matches, down in fourth place and six points off the pace of leaders Arsenal.

Guardiola said the credit belonged to Villa on the night but admitted he had much to think about to get their title defence back on track.

“The better team won,” Guardiola said.

“Aston Villa was better than us. We struggled. It was really difficult. They are well organised, fast and physical players, they are able to control many aspects. That is the reason why they are up there. They played good football and we could not do it.

“It is my duty, it is my job to find a way to come back. Many years now we are together we found a way, we are able to find a way to win games, to find a way to do it.

“Now that we are struggling we have to change the dynamic, win as soon as possible, Luton, Crystal Palace, to change our mind and continue to win there.”

The absence of the suspended Rodri was again telling. This was the fourth match of the season the Spain midfielder has missed through a ban – and City have lost all four.

While there are other key players out – Jack Grealish, Jeremy Doku and of course Kevin De Bruyne – City’s reliance on their midfield holder is obvious.

“Without Rodri we could not win against Liverpool and Spurs, of course Rodri is so important but when Rodri is not there we have to find a way to do it,” Guardiola said.

“Today is simple, the better team won, you have to accept it. In football it happens. I said (to the players), ‘I know you tried, I know you want it, you have proven it to me many many times’.

“Now the results are not good, that’s why I have to see the games, reflect, and see how we try to do it.”

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