Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has hailed the defensive solidity of his side in recent games but is anticipating a difficult match as they come up against relegation-threatened Bournemouth.
Villa go into the game having won two of their last three but come up against Gary O’Neil’s side who are fresh from a 1-0 victory over Champions League contenders Liverpool.
Emery’s side have kept two clean sheets (against Crystal Palace and Everton) over those three unbeaten matches, having conceded 11 goals in the previous three before that, albeit including games against Manchester City (3-1) and league leaders Arsenal (4-2).
The Spaniard told a press conference: “When we were conceding a lot of goals – eight in two matches at home (also losing 4-2 to Leicester) – it changed the focus a little bit.
“To achieve a clean sheet in the last match at home was very, very important. Tomorrow is the same. We are confident now after three matches where we have been strong defensively.
“We need to be the protagonists on the pitch more than our opponents while being strong defensively.
“That is the challenge tomorrow – a clean sheet, to win and try to impose our idea.”
Bournemouth lie 18th in what is turning out to be one of the closest relegation scraps in recent history and a result on Saturday could lift the Cherries out of the bottom three.
O’Neil’s team have new belief after Phillip Billing’s strike last weekend brought them a shock triumph over Liverpool – having also given Arsenal a major scare after the Dane’s early goal – and Emery knows the threat they can pose at Villa Park.
He continued: “We have to respect them. We have to know their shape and that if something is changing, how to defend against them and to attack them.
“Individually, we have to know their characteristics as players. Their shapes with the ball and without the ball.
“They now have confidence and we have to adapt to them but impose our idea as well. We have to fight the duels being winners. That is the challenge tomorrow.”
Ollie Watkins has been the man in form for Villa with six goals in his last seven games.
Despite that scoring run, Watkins was left out of Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad for Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.
Emery said: “He is very competitive. He has in his mind a little bit the possibility to be in the squad for the national team.
“He could be disappointed but tomorrow is a very good opportunity for him and for us to show everybody he’s keeping his good performance, trying to help us to win and be competitive.
“For him, tomorrow is a very good match to show everyone that his performance is going up and he’s getting closer to the national team.”
Philippe Coutinho will once again be missing with a hamstring injury which has kept him out of the last three matches.
Midfielder Leander Dendoncker also remains out and Saturday’s fixture may come too soon for fellow midfielder Boubacar Kamara, who continues to recover from an ankle injury.