'Final table will look nice on the wall, but Villa want a trophy for the cabinet'

Aston Villa expert view banner

As you know by now, Unai Emery is not into short cuts; he takes in the journey as much as the destination.

"Before the match, we were speaking in the dressing room," he explained on Saturday, when it seemed Villa had seen two important points leak away after their good start against Chelsea, while being grateful it was not three.

"The first objective to be in Europe after the Conference League is the Europa League, and we got it today, before even playing this match. It was a very good achievement for us."

And so it is. Villa are sure to finish no worse than fifth in the Premier League, a season of continued progress by any metric assured.

Well, any metric except one; the merciless nature of expectation. Villa have occupied a top-four position for so long now - all but one week since November - that not achieving it would cause them real, and undeserved, hurt.

Spurs' defeat on Sunday helped calm such fears for now, and on Thursday Villa fans will be attentive for news of any more Spurs mishaps even as they watch their own team in a European semi-final.

Emery, however, will not. His fascination with European competitions has been plain - and never far from his public comments - since the moment he walked into Villa Park. While the primacy of the Champions League is obvious, you can be sure that he wants the Europa Conference League on his already formidable record as well, simply because it is there; collecting every European experience like a child hunting the last sticker to complete his album.

For the long term of Aston Villa, finishing fourth and winning the right to compete in the Champions League would probably be the most meaningful achievement possible for them this month. To that end, Brighton away on Sunday could arguably be the higher priority for a coach juggling his dwindling resources.

But that will not be how it feels inside Villa Park. Wondering which competition the next European game in the stadium after Olympiakos will concern - and we now know for sure that there will be European football there next season - can wait.

The final league table will look nice in a frame on the wall. But Villa want a trophy for the cabinet.

  • Aston Villa v Olympiakos - live commentary on BBC Radio WM (Thursday, 20:00 BST)

  • Listen to BBC Radio WM's Football Phone-In (Monday-Friday, 18:00-19:00)