Depth of squad has to be addressed this summer

Aston Villa expert view

The "Road to Athens" as Uefa branded this season's Europa Conference League tournament, ended in the wrong part of the district.

More accurately, we might say that it really ended in Birmingham last week, when Villa missed the chance to take charge of the tie. Unai Emery would have expected Olympiakos to be well coached to protect that lead by his compatriot Jose Luis Mendilibar, and so it proved.

Everything looked right. Villa needed a large share of possession and commandeered the ball from the very start. All the systems were working smoothly. But the home team, motivated by their loud support, filled in all the spaces and left no cracks.

With their own first attack, they scored a goal that made the process look infuriatingly simple, as if Villa had built a computer to decipher the security code on a door, and Olympiakos had just leaned on it.

They might have anticipated a final Villa surge after half-time, but when it didn’t appear, there was a perceptible shift in the atmosphere. The VAR check on the final goal was a technicality; it was all over anyway, and both teams knew it.

All is not lost. Perhaps Villa will finish fourth in the Premier League and reach the premier European competition, without scoring another point - maybe without even lacing up their boots if Tottenham fail on Saturday.

So be it. However Villa clinch it, fourth place would still be a deserved reward for remarkable progress. After more than a decade without European football, this time they will be away for only a few months.

However, there is a final lesson to draw from the successive defeats by Brighton and Olympiakos. Villa have some players who are a match for any in their position. You cannot get this far so quickly without them. The problem is there are not quite enough.

Yes, Villa had half a team missing this week. Injuries happen, though, and the replacements have to be strong enough to keep up the level - not only when players are hurt, but when the top-liners need to take a break now and then.

The statistics of the work done by Villa's stars this season are clear - there were too many big games when Emery needed them all on duty, with no rest.

The next stage of their development is not about quality - it is about depth, which does not come cheap.

And, I am afraid, that might mean we are all going to learn more about the financial regulations this summer.