Aston Villa wait on fitness of Emiliano Martínez for Olympiakos second leg

Aston Villa wait on fitness of Emiliano Martínez for Olympiakos second leg

Unai Emery has said he will make a last-minute call on whether Emiliano Martínez will face Olympiakos as they attempt to overturn a first-leg defeat to reach the Europa Conference League final. Martínez, who returned to training this week after a thigh problem, has travelled to Athens but Emery confirmed he will speak to the club doctor before making a final decision on the morning of the game. Robin Olsen will again deputise if Martínez is not deemed fit enough to start.

Martínez was withdrawn at half‑time against Chelsea last month but the goalkeeper, whose penalty-shootout heroics in Lille helped Villa into the semi-finals, could make a timely comeback in Greece.

“I will speak with him and the doctor to see if he is 100% fit to play, but I believe in Olsen and I’m building the team, not just with the players in the starting XI,” Emery said. “If we did that we would be dead now because we’ve had a lot of players injured. If he is available 100%, he is going to play. If not, Olsen has played fantastic in the moments we have needed him.”

Emery has stressed the importance of his players keeping their emotions in check when they face their “biggest challenge” of the season, as they seek to overturn a first-leg defeat to Olympiakos to reach a major European final for the first time since 1982, when they beat Bayern Munich 1-0 in Rotterdam to win the European Cup. Villa, who trail 4-2, need to turn things around in Piraeus but Emery knows the severity of the test that awaits.

“The atmosphere, [Olympiakos fans] supporting the home team, it couldn’t be more difficult,” the Villa manager said. “The supporters here push them a lot to help them. We have to focus on how we can react. We have to build a new experience with our players … it is the biggest challenge we are going to face this year, playing here in a semi-final.”

Emery urged his players to learn from the first-leg defeat at Villa Park and maintain their focus, even if they concede early. “That experience we had is very important and tomorrow we have to try to keep the balance even if we are not scoring, even if they are scoring 1-0 because in 90 minutes we can impose our plan and we can get chances and get clinical in one moment during the match,” he said. “We have to try and be competitive like they were at home against us. We have to be in the same idea, improving some things we didn’t do like we prepared before.”

If Emery’s men battle through they will meet Fiorentina who have reached back-to-back Europa Conference League finals after a 4-3 aggregate win over Club Brugge.

skip past newsletter promotion

Robin Olsen, Unai Emery and Lucas Digne during Aston Villa’s first leg against Olympiakos View image in fullscreen

The Olympiakos head coach, José Luis Mendilibar, who won the Europa League with Sevilla last season, cited his current side’s 4-1 last-16 defeat at home to Maccabi Tel Aviv as a prime reason why they cannot assume the tie is over despite their two-goal cushion. Olympiakos won the return leg, played in Serbia, 6-1 to tee up this semi-final. “This is quite a telling example, we have to be very focused, despite the fact we scored four goals at their home,” Mendilibar said. “Tomorrow’s match is going to be different and we have to be concentrated and serious about it.”

Olympiakos are trying to become only the second Greek team to reach a major European final, after Panathinaikos were runners-up in the 1970-71 European Cup. The final will be played across town at the Agia Sophia Stadium, the home of AEK Athens built in 2022, at the end of this month.

Douglas Luiz, who has played 54 matches this season, said he hopes the campaign continues for a while yet. “It is true that this season has been very difficult for us in terms of the amount of games, the lack of time to rest,” the Brazil midfielder said. “It is a semi-final, an opportunity to bring Aston Villa into a final and to reach the final is something that brings extra motivation to keep fighting. I feel it will be a really special game for Aston Villa and I want to try my best to bring them all to the final.”