By Joe Roberts

2nd Oct, 2023 | 6:15pm

Nicolo Zaniolo to be axed for Jacob Ramsey by Unai Emery in three changes - Aston Villa predicted XI v Zrinjski

Aston Villa manager Unai Emery could make just three changes to his side as they look to get their first win in the Europa Conference League against Zrinjski on Thursday (5 October).

The Villans were humbled on their return to European football with Legia Warszawa teaching them a lesson in a 3-2 away loss. But their fortunes have changed since that night in Poland, and on the back of a 6-1 thrashing of high-flying Brighton, Emery will be keen to announce his side on the European stage.

Not wanting to face another upset in Europe, Emery will likely make few changes to his side in a bid to get the first points on the table.

Some concern spread towards the end of the Brighton clash regarding Moussa Diaby and Boubacar Kamara after they were taken off late in the game. Emery clarified that the pair would likely be available for this clash, stating, as quoted by Birmingham Live (2 October): “I think [Diaby] has some pain, but I don’t think it’s relevant for the next games. Kamara as well, hopefully not important.”

This will likely see them remain in the starting XI, but a few key performers could see their spot taken.

In goal, Emi Martinez would be expected to start. Robin Olsen had a poor performance in the Villans’ 2-1 League Cup defeat to Everton and has proved he struggles under pressure. Needing a big win, Emery will depend on his shot-stopper to show his quality once again and improve on his suspect debut in the competition against Warszawa.

The backline may remain mostly the same. Against Warszawa, the defence looked disorganised and almost amateur, so Emery will be keen to avoid this on Thursday. Matty Cash continues to be an attacking threat, but his defensive excellence against the Seagulls was obvious, with six tackles and two clearances [SofaScore].

Lucas Digne could keep his spot after emerging as a mainstay for Emery this season, but Pau Torres could lose out to Clement Lenglet. The Frenchman will be eager to prove himself to his new boss after a lack of opportunities this season, and his debut against Warszawa did not do him any favours. However, with a stronger team around him and an extra few weeks of Emery tactics under his belt, a start could be on the cards.

A similar story could be seen with Youri Tielemans. He only witnessed the final moments of Villa’s Brighton victory but could replace Douglas Luiz. Per Transfermark, Tielemans has earned just 412 minutes from a possible 900 this season, but Emery will be eager to get the Belgian back to his best after his initial struggles for starting opportunities.

He has not looked particularly assured in claret and blue just yet, but with more lethal finishers in front of him than against Warszawa, he could help unlock the Zrinjski defence.

Kamara could possibly retain his spot. He showed his worth again against Brighton, with nine ground duels won and four tackles and Emery may rely on his ball-retention ability to help Villa control the game.

McGinn has started every game in all competitions for Villa this season, and the captain will be likely to keep his spot. His versatility saw him start the Everton defeat at left-back, but Emery will probably keep him in one of his preferred positions to help push his side up the field. 83 per cent pass accuracy and eight successful ground duels against the Seagulls show he is still an influence on the side.

Nicolo Zaniolo had a tough time against Brighton despite the huge score margin. Emery hauled him off near the hour mark after completing just two passes out of six attempted, earning a 33% success rate. The man who replaced him that afternoon could be the man to replace him in this starting XI.

Jacob Ramsey proved his recent injury issues have not slowed him down after getting in on the action with a goal against Brighton and earning 100 per cent passing accuracy. He was a vital player for Aston Villa last season, and Emery will be eager to give him as much shame time as possible.

Diaby may have been frustrated not to get on the scoresheet on the weekend but has proved himself as one of Villa’s most lethal attackers with two goals and three assists in the Premier League this season, Emery will hope he can get back to scoring ways.

After his sensational hattrick against Brighton, Watkins has finally announced himself this season. He opened his account in Aston Villa’s 1-0 win against Chelsea, but gave one of his best performances in a Villa shirt against the Seagull, adding an assist and two dribbles to his three-goal haul.

The boss will be keen to keep Watkins’ confidence as high as possible and may give him the nod over Jhon Duran.

In a must-win game, Emery will demand a win, but will potentially put out one of his strongest sides to ensure this happens.

In other Aston Villa news, a Sky Sports journalist has mooted any injury concerns for a Villa Park “gamechanger”.