By Anthony Onifade

19th Sep, 2023 | 6:10pm

Unai Emery to wield axe on Nicolo Zaniolo and Boubacar Kamara in three changes - Aston Villa predicted XI v Legia Warsaw

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery could be set to make three changes to his starting eleven when they visit Polish side Legia Warsaw as the Europa Conference League group stage kicks off on Thursday.

Emery’s side have made a decent start to the new Premier League campaign, with Saturday’s dramatic 3-1 triumph over Crystal Palace making it three wins from five games so far.

With AZ Alkmaar and Zrinjski Mostar also in their group, Emery’s side will be expected to top the section but they will have to brave a hostile crowd in Warsaw on opening night.

And ahead of the match, the Spaniard could be set for some critical selection dilemmas with a Premier League trip to Chelsea on Sunday also to consider.

Aston Villa will certainly have to face such a tough balancing act for the first time in a while as they look to juggle both their domestic and European exploits, which means Emery will have to ensure his squad is well-stocked and mentally prepared to perform at tip-top levels in both competitions.

And ahead of Thursday’s clash, Emery could be set to make as many as three changes.

Emi Martinez is expected to remain in goal for the Villans and could certainly count himself lucky that his teammates bailed him out after a dreadful slip that led to Crystal Palace’s opener on Saturday.

Still had a comfortable afternoon and performed a crucial save from Ebere Eze when the score was still at 1-0 to the away side.

The Spaniard may be tempted into a change at the back with Clement Lenglet finally making his full Aston Villa debut ahead of Pau Torres to partner with Ezri Konsa at centre-back.

Matty Cash and Lucas Digne are expected to keep their place at right and left full-back respectively, but it won’t be a surprise to see Emery start Alex Moreno ahead of the Frenchman to give him some much-needed fitness in his legs after his return to injury.

In midfield, Emery may well be expected to axe Boubacar Kamara after his ineffective performance against Crystal Palace on Saturday.

The former Marseille man registered four ground duels won, successfully completed five of his seven long balls [SofaScore], but that was about it as he was largely absent alongside the ever-present Luiz. His starting place at Villa Park is under serious threat.

Villa’s three-man midfield should include the brilliant Douglas Luiz at the base, and continues his superb form after another Man of the Match showing against the Eagles, winning ten of his ground duels, completing all of his long balls, laid on one key pass and successfully completed 87% of his passes [SofaScore] in a crucial performance.

Not one of his best, but one which proves just how influential he is for Emery. Also scored the decisive goal from the penalty spot.

John McGinn also was rather ineffective at the weekend, winning just four of his nine ground duels, losing possession of the ball ten times and completing 50% of his dribbles [SofaScore] before being taken off for the Villa’s saviour Jhon Duran, will be looking to rekindle his form and Emery will need his quality with the Villans expected to play under a very hostile atmosphere in Poland.

Youri Tielemas should start alongside McGinn and Luiz and show Emery why he deserves to start Premier League games and his controlled and composed game in possession could prove incredibly useful in what should be a frantic spectacle.

In attack, Emery will be expected to wield the axe on Nicolo Zaniolo after his below-par performance at the weekend in what was his first Premier League start.

In the whole of his 57 minutes on the pitch, while laying on three key passes, he won just four of his 12 total duels, barely touched the ball with just 37 touches to his name and 14/18 out of successful passes, completed just one of his four dribbles at a 25% success rate while also losing possession of the ball 15 times [SofaScore].

Given he only just signed on the dotted line at Villa Park, Zaniolo still has a lot of acclimatising to do to get to grips with life in the West Midlands.

Jamaican international Leon Bailey should come in for Zaniolo after his goalscoring cameo against Palace, with Moussa Diaby and burdened Ollie Watkins who has now gone six games without a goal in the Premier League and just one in his last 12 [SofaScore].

Duran’s sensational strike and confidence right now means he is certainly well-equipped to start on Thursday but Emery will want to give his star man Watkins some confidence heading into Sunday’s game at Stamford Bridge which means the England international should keep his place in Poland.

In other Aston Villa news, one player registered an unexpected “5/10” score in a lifeless performance v Crystal Palace as the player ratings are shared.