By Daniel Lewis

7th Nov, 2023 | 1:29pm

Unai Emery to axe Nicolo Zaniolo, first start handed out - Aston Villa predicted XI v AZ Alkmaar

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery could hand a first Europa Conference League start to Moussa Diaby for Thursday’s (9 November) clash with AZ Alkmaar.

The Villans have followed up defeat to Legia Warsaw in their opening game with victories over Zrinjski Mostar and AZ to leave themselves second in Group E at the midway stage, three points ahead of the latter two.

The outcome at Villa Park in the return fixture against AZ could therefore prove pivotal to Villa’s hopes of progressing to the knockout rounds, meaning Emery should field a strong line-up.

Diaby has appeared as a second-half substitute in two of Villa’s opening three European matches, but he could be used from the beginning against AZ after his performance against Nottingham Forest.

Villa lost that Premier League contest at the weekend 2-0, but Diaby stood out – as he did in the 3-1 win over Luton Town a week prior – as no player registered more key passes (four) [WhoScored].

Emery likes to make full use of his squad between domestic and European matches, and that may still be the case here as Leon Bailey has surely done enough to merit a starting spot at the expense of Nicolo Zaniolo.

The Italy international had a shocker against Forest as he completed 0% of his crosses, had just 23 touches and was successful with only one dribble [Sofascore].

Bailey replaced Zaniolo at half-time and registered 36 touches and created one chance, which, while hardly exceptional in its own right, shows he can offer far more than the loanee out wide.

Youri Tielemans is another pushing for a recall to the starting line-up, with his 95.1% pass-completion rate against Forest and one shot showing he can fill in for Douglas Luiz (95.3% and one shot respectively).

Emery may be tempted to rotate out John McGinn, but the Scotsman leads the way for dribbles per game among Villa players in the Premier League this season (1.2) and should therefore get the nod against AZ.

Emiliano Martinez conceded two goals from outside the box in a single game for just the second time in 120 Premier League appearances at the weekend [OptaJoe], meanwhile, but there is little chance of him being dropped.

In other Aston Villa news, Emery made an admission over Zaniolo following the loss to Forest.