Easing into 2024
After the strain of eight games in December for Aston Villa, the month of January, with just two Premier League games and an FA Cup game, comes at the perfect time for the team. With the added winter break, plus the fact Unai Emery is expected to put out a weakened team at Middlesbrough in the cup, Villa will be able to refocus mentality and sort out their defensive injury problems.
Pau Torres Fitness Situation
The main benefit will be getting Pau Torres back to full fitness. Villa’s jittery defensive performance against Burnley, led Emery to bring on the Spanish substitute in the second half, despite declaring before the game, he wasn’t 100%.
“Pau is not 100%, his injury is not big but it’s not available for him to play 100%,” said Emery, before stating, “we will wait for the next weeks, and we’re going to play with Lenglet because we can get the performances like I want.”
Lenglet is expected to start against Boro, giving Torres two-weeks off since his Burnley cameo.
Lucas Digne Layoff
One of Villa’s impressive performers this season had been Lucas Digne, who had stepped it up a level compared to last season. After going off injured in the 3-2 defeat at Manchester United on Boxing Day, the defender is expected to be sidelined for at least both the FA Cup game and trip to Everton.
“He’s going to be out of the team for some weeks,” said Emery on Digne, at his pre-Burnley press conference.
“He was playing very good and he was being very competitive but we have to try now to replace him with Álex Moreno, after his long injury.
“I think Álex is ready, and we will hope Lucas is coming back in 20-25 days.”
Moreno has certainly come back from his long-term injury at the right time, and has had enough game time to be up to speed.
On the other flank, Matty Cash missed the Manchester United game through suspension, and reportedly, the Burnley game through sickness. The Middlesbrough game might be an opportunity to get him into the swing of things, if he’s fully recovered.
The Villa backline certainly missed the calming presence of Boubacar Kamara in front of them, and with the midfielder completing his three-game ban against Burnley, Emery will no doubt also be tempted to give him minutes against Boro ala Cash.
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Taking it’s Toll
When looking back to Villa’s eight-game December, the win against Manchester City was perhaps the only convincing performance enjoyed by Villa. Ultimately, the team did very well to get the games against Brentford, Arsenal and Burnley over the line for three points, and snatch draws against Sheffield United and Bournemouth.
Villa certainly demonstrated desire and resolve, when fatigue and injuries compromised their efforts. Sitting in second place in the Premier League and easing into 2024 with just two league games is perhaps the perfect tonic for Emery, all things considered.