UEFA Europa Conference League

Olympiakos v Aston Villa: Back 17/1 shout on Villa making a comeback

Unai Emery instructs his players from the touchline
Unai Emery won't be overawed by their second leg challenge

Aston Villa trail by two goals following their first leg defeat last week, but Unai Emery has been here before and knows how to escape from tricky scenarios in Europe...

Olympiakos v Aston Villa
Thursday 9th May, 20:00
Live on TNT Sports 1

Villa's two-goal deficit doesn't mean tie over

Unai Emery was in no mood for excuses after the first leg defeat against Olympiakos, saying quite simply "we deserved to lose and they deserved to win."

There's not much arguing with that when it comes from the Villa boss himself, but the game itself wasn't merely a story of a loose performance by the home side. Up against a dangerous underdog in the form of Jose Luis Mendilibar, the succession of events and not much rub of the green all added up to one of those days for a Villa side who had been the overall tournament favourites going into the game. "Everything that could have gone wrong tonight did," said John McGinn.

There was a Leon Bailey goal rather softly ruled out, a missed penalty by Douglas Luiz, a handball from the Brazilian to give away a penalty, and a deflected strike from outside the box by Santiago Hezze, just to name some of tie-swinging events that led to the shock defeat. Add to that Olympiakos scored with four of their five shots from inside the box and only had six touches in the penalty area all game, and you can see just how the underdog triumph might have occurred.

The challenge for Villa now is to come from two goals down in the second leg, and history tells us that's not an insurmountable deficit. Across the previous four occasions when an Unai Emery side has lost the first leg of a European tie by 2+ goals, his team have still managed to progress in half of those.

In 2014, his Sevilla side lost 2-0 in a first leg against Real Betis but won on penalties in the second leg (2-2 on aggregate), while in 2019 his Arsenal side lost 3-1 in a first leg against Rennes but eventually won 4-3 on aggregate (both of those in the Europa League).

Villa were the favourites to win the tournament prior to the first leg for a reason, and Unai Emery has worked his way out of tight spots like this in Europe before. Indeed, it's not to say the visitors need to completely overturn the tie either - against an inevitably gritty resistance from Olympiakos, getting to extra time would surely start to swing things in their favour.

Provided Emi Martinez returns in time - as we're led to believe by the ever-reliable Argentine journalist Gaston Edul - Villa will be able to count on perhaps the sport's most dominant shootout goalkeeper, should the game go that way. So much so, if the visitors can get back level on aggregate, it might be them who decide to defend their position and hang on for the shootout.

It was just under a month ago that Aston Villa won 2-0 away to Arsenal at the Emirates, and if they can win there, they can win just about anywhere in Europe. Against an Olympiakos side who will dig as deep as they can under the orders of Mendilibar, I'll go with the long shot and back Villa to slog their way to penalties and let their goalkeeper go to work.

Back Aston Villa to win on penalties @ 17/118.00

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Leon Bailey can thrive in ambitious gameplan

In a game where Olympiakos are inevitably going to pack their box and defend it with everything they can, you'd imagine Ollie Watkins is going to have to play a pretty patient game in the second leg. Space will be at a premium for the man with 27 goals this season, who will no doubt be the one Jose Luis Mendilibar has picked out for special attention in his pre-match preparations.

Of course, it'd be no surprise if Watkins manages to get himself on the scoresheet in Greece, but if the home side do end up paying a little too much attention to crowding out Villa's top scorer then it'll be up to his supporting cast to take advantage of it.

Leon Bailey is the club's second-top scorer this term with 14 goals, and he's actually averaged more shots per 90 (2.6) than Watkins (1.9) in the UEFA Europa Conference League this season. In a game where Villa need to force the issue and find solutions around the penalty area, the 26-year-old is always a willing candidate to take on the responsibility in attack.

Following the injury to Morgan Rogers at Brighton last weekend, the likelihood of Bailey being in the XI has only increased too. If Emery wants to approach this game in ambitious fashion, then the Jamaican ought to be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

Back Aston Villa to win; Leon Bailey to score anytime; Villa to have more corners @ 6/17.00

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