Given Unai Emery‘s four Europa League titles and impressive work at Villa, his team were among the favourites for this competition – but Legia Warsaw made a mockery of those predictions by sending the ragged visitors to defeat in their opening group game amid bedlam at the Municipal Stadium.
Emery made five changes and this result might make him doubt whether he has the squad to compete in four competitions, as Villa were dire at the back and in midfield. They simply could not contain Legia’s young forward Ernest Muci, who scored twice and looks an exciting prospect.
The home side led twice in the first half through Pawel Wszolek and Muci, only to be pegged back by goals from Jhon Duran and Lucas Digne. Villa were lucky to be level at the break but failed to make the most of their escape. Muci scored again six minutes after the restart and there was no third comeback, even though Emery used all five substitutes.
‘We had some good and some really bad moments, and in our worst moments they scored,’ said Emery. ‘Our reaction in the second half was not the same as the first – we created chances only in the last five minutes.
Ernest Muci scored twice as Legia Warsaw beat Aston Villa on Thursday night
Legia Warsaw’s players celebrate their shock victory over Villa in the Europa Conference League
A dejected Youri Tielemans during a chastening night for Unai Emery’s Premier League side
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‘Everything that happened tonight, I have experienced in European football before. I want to watch the match again to see how we manage when we play in Europe.
‘I believe in this squad. We have to build a squad to play in four competitions. It’s difficult with players like Tyrone Mings and Emiliano Buendia injured but we have to build again with the players we have. We have to learn from this. We could still have lost this game with a different XI.’
Emery’s new-look line up did not click and Legia quickly moved in front. In a deafening atmosphere, Patryk Kun escaped on the left and crossed for his opposite wing-back to steer the ball in at the far post.
The lead lasted only three minutes. Nicolo Zaniolo’s 25-yard rocket was touched on to the bar and Duran headed into an empty net.
Despite the leveller, Villa could not settle. Wszolek’s cross clipped Digne and fell perfectly for Muci, who restored Legia’s lead from 10 yards. Moments later Muci sped past Ezri Konsa and tumbled under his challenge, with Konsa relieved to see play continue.
Konsa’s centre-back partner Clement Lenglet was uneasy on his Villa debut. Marc Gual drifted beyond him and forced Emiliano Martinez into a sharp stop – though Villa equalised two minutes later. Digne struck his angled volley well and Kacper Tobiasz was helpless when a deflection took it beyond him.
Aston Villa forward Jhon Duran levelled three minutes after Pawel Wszolek’s opener
Villa were lucky to be level at the break but failed to make the most of their escape
Villa sent on Ollie Watkins, Douglas Luiz and Moussa Diaby in search of an equaliser
Unai Emery did not hide his frustration as Villa slumped to defeat on return to European stage
Having been out-thought for most of the half, Villa then had two great chances to go ahead. Leon Bailey guided wide and Duran was denied by Tobiasz from eight yards.
Villa should have regrouped yet they were punished after the restart as the impressive Muci undid them again. Digne gave the ball away and when Gual found his fellow attacker in space, Muci sprinted beyond Konsa and Calum Chambers and scored off the post.
Emery made a triple change on the hour yet it was Legia who looked more dangerous. Martinez fumbled a 25-yard effort from Bartosz Slisz forcing Chambers to hack clear.
Two of Villa’s substitutes, Matty Cash and the fit-again Jacob Ramsey, carved out a late chance, with Ramsey firing wide from 20 yards when Cash’s strike ricocheted into his path. Then Cash played in another sub, Moussa Diaby, but Tobiasz blocked and deep into stoppage time, Youri Tielemans hit the side netting. Villa had woken up too late and Legia held on.