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Aston Villa: Emery must unleash Philippe Coutinho against Stevenage

Aston Villa will face Stevenage as they look to commence their FA Cup campaign under the tutelage of Unai Emery, who arrived in October after replacing Steven Gerrard at the helm.

Villa had made a dreadful start to the season under the 42-year-old, winning just two league matches out of 11 before the club’s hierarchy had seen enough, deciding to pull the plug on the former Liverpool legend’s project after just 11 months.

Now under the management of the distinguished Spaniard, the Midlands outfit have risen from the ashes and chalked up three victories from five Premier League games with Emery in the dugout, and the FA Cup represents the start for a potentially fruitful cup run.

Stevenage, who are second in League Two, will be eyeing a phenomenal cup upset, but with Emery having a history of taking chances for silverware seriously, Villa should win comfortably.

One man who could serve as a centrepiece to this afternoon’s exploits is Philippe Coutinho, who has struggled for consistent form since arriving at Villa Park on an initial loan deal from Barcelona 12 months ago.

In total, the Brazilian maestro has made 35 appearances for the Villans, registering only five goals and three assists for his troubles, with not one single contribution coming this term from his 16 outings across all competitions.

However, he is still one of the most technically gifted playmakers that the Premier League has seen, and his exploits with Liverpool which earned him the lucrative £146m transfer to Barcelona remain within his locker when at his best.

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Against Stevenage, this innate footballing guile and wizardry with the ball at his feet could prove the difference, with his unlocking of the Boro’s resilient defence possibly orchestrating a resounding victory to send the Villans into the next round.

The FA Cup third round tie could indeed be the catalyst for change and may hopefully see an injection of the “magical” element that he brings to the pitch – as remarked by Gerrard when he signed the 30-year-old last year – which saw him rise to the very top of the game.

The 69-cap Coutinho has indeed failed to live up to expectations this season, but with Sofascore rating his performances in the Premier League at 7.09 last term, he evidently still has the wherewithal to excel.

Indeed, his efforts in 2022/23 have fallen well below his usual standard, and if he is to flourish in the Premier League again, he must first make the desired impact against Stevenage, if he earns another shot at a starting berth.

Given the level at which Villa’s opposition are playing, today seems like the perfect chance for Emery to unleash Coutinho, who showed in his first few weeks in the Midlands that he has the ability to change a game in his team’s favour.