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Aston Villa qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history following Tottenham’s 2-0 defeat to Manchester City on Tuesday.

Unai Emery’s side fell short of European success this season after a 6-2 aggregate defeat to Olympiakos in the Europa Conference League semi-final but will now rub shoulders with Europe’s elite for the first time in 41 years.

Here, the PA news agency takes a look at the challenges they may face next season.

Lengthy fixture list could cause issues

Aston Villa v Chelsea – Premier League – Villa Park
Aston Villa have had a number of injury problems to contend with (David Davies/PA)

Villa had their first taste of European football since 2010-11 this term and reached the last four but will now face stiffer competition at Europe’s top table. Their trip to Crystal Palace on the final day of the Premier League season will be their 56th game this term and injuries have started to sweep through the dressing room. The Champions League format next season will see teams play two more games in the group stage than previous years, so Villa will need to strengthen with quality in all departments in order to go toe to toe with the best teams on the continent.

Last time in European Cup

Soccer – European Cup – Final – Aston Villa v Bayern Munich – De Kuip
Aston Villa won the European Cup in 1982 (PA Archive/PA)

Villa last appeared in Europe’s top competition in the 1982-83 season. They became just the fourth English side to lift the coveted trophy by beating Bayern Munich in Rotterdam in May 1982, but the Bundesliga champions got their revenge a year later by dumping Aston Villa out in the quarter-finals.

Key players behind success

Aston Villa v Ajax – UEFA Europa Conference League – Round of 16 – Second Leg – Villa Park
Ollie Watkins has been a stand-out performer for Villa (Martin Rickett/PA)

The stand-out performer has been Ollie Watkins. The 28-year-old has contributed 19 goals and 13 assists in 36 Premier League appearances, including notable performances against Arsenal – where he notched the second at the Emirates Stadium to sink the Gunners 2-0 – as well as his hat-trick in the 6-1 crushing of Brighton in October. Others have rallied around their star man, including midfield pairing Douglas Luiz and John McGinn. Winger Leon Bailey has emerged as one of Villa’s top players with 10 goals and nine assists to his name, while goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez’s 95 saves across the season have proved crucial.

Emery’s Champions League record

Villarreal v Manchester United – UEFA Champions League – Group F – Estadio de la Ceramica
Unai Emery has reached a Champions League semi-final with Villarreal (Isabel Infantes/PA)

While European football has been uncharted territory for many of Villa’s squad, that is not the case for boss Unai Emery, who built his reputation in the Europa League by winning the competition four times – including an unprecedented three consecutive triumphs with Sevilla. The Spaniard has not had the same success in the Champions League but did lead Villarreal to the last four in 2021-22 before losing 5-2 on aggregate to Liverpool. Emery could not take Paris St Germain beyond the last 16 and was on the wrong end of Barcelona’s famous comeback from 4-0 down heading into the second leg, with the Catalan side producing a sensational 6-1 comeback victory to go through.