Aston Villa sweating on fitness of goalkeeper Emi Martinez as Unai Emery's men seek to overturn a two-goal deficit against Olympiacos in one most intimidating venues in European football

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  • Emi Martinez was due to have a fitness test before the squad fly to Athens
  • Aston Villa must overturn a two-goal deficit at Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium 
  • Another nightmare… which players are to blame and should Thomas Tuchel come in? Listen to the It's All Kicking Off! Man United Crisis Special podcast 

If Aston Villa are serious about rejoining the elite of European football then they must show they can deliver on nights like these.

To keep alive their dream of lifting a first major trophy since 1996, on Thursday Unai Emery’s men must overturn a two-goal deficit at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium - the home of Olympiacos and one of the most intimidating venues in European football.

Only 1,600 Villa supporters will be there to cheer on their team among a capacity crowd of about 33,000 and their noise will be largely drowned out. Every Villa touch will be whistled, their every pass jeered. If Olympiacos supporters learn the location of Villa’s hotel, the squad may be in for a disturbed night’s sleep.

Yet these are the games Emery has pinpointed to take Villa to the next level. With Champions League qualification within touching distance, Emery knows his team need to learn to handle the heat of hostile matches in unfamiliar surroundings.

Even though Villa have reached the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League, their progress has been based on strong home displays. The 4-1 win at AZ Alkmaar last October is Villa’s only victory on their travels in the competition proper, and they were poor in the 0-0 draw at Ajax and the 2-1 defeat at Lille, when Villa were lucky to squeeze through on penalties.

Goalkeeper Emi Martinez was due to have a fitness test before the squad fly to Athens

Goalkeeper Emi Martinez was due to have a fitness test before the squad fly to Athens

Goalkeeper Emi Martinez was due to have a fitness test before the squad fly to Athens

Olympiacos’ 4-2 win at Villa Park last Thursday means Villa will have to go one step beyond with a tired, injury-hit squad. 

But Emery has instilled a ‘no excuses’ culture at the club and these are precisely the situations in which he wants to test his team’s mettle.

A four-time Europa League winner as a coach, Emery knows what it takes to succeed in these contests. It is now up to his players to prove they do, too.

Goalkeeper Emi Martinez was due to have a fitness test on Wednesday before the squad fly to Athens and his return would be crucial. Though John McGinn is the captain, Martinez is the natural leader of this team, especially in the absence of Tyrone Mings.

After Martinez was substituted at half-time against Chelsea on April 27, Villa threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at home to Chelsea and then lost to Olympiacos and Brighton. Without him, they have conceded seven times, scoring only twice.

Martinez makes his presence felt off the pitch as well as on it and without him the changing room is a quieter place, something Emery has been trying to correct.

‘I’m pushing Ezri Konsa to lead in different moments,” said Emery. ‘I like to explain in the dressing room in front of everyone, they are doing that.

‘Even Leon Bailey likes to speak and Ollie Watkins is usually one step ahead trying to share our thoughts in front of other players.

Aston Villa must overturn a two-goal deficit at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium on Thursday

Aston Villa must overturn a two-goal deficit at the Georgios Karaiskakis Stadium on Thursday

‘We are building our mentality. We were progressively getting better, being responsible and mature.

‘There’s still work to do because we need to keep control of emotions when we are under pressure and are struggling in some moments. The maturity of the players is getting better.

Villa’s players are about to take a crash course in mental resilience. If they can come through it, it will mean so much more for their future than reaching a major European final. The stakes could scarcely be higher.

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