Unai Emery sets Sven Botman and Fabian Schar challenge for Aston Villa star ahead of Newcastle United clash

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The striker has been in red hot form ahead of his side’s meeting with the Magpies.

Unai Emery has challenged in-form Aston Villa striker Ollie Watkins to extend his purple patch against Newcastle United on Saturday lunchtime.

The seven-times capped England frontman has been in fine form since Emery was named as successor to former Villa manager Steven Gerrard in October, scoring 11 goals and providing three assists in 18 appearances under the Spaniard. But it is over the last three months when Watkins has really found his stride as a goal in a 1-0 win at Southampton in mid-January kickstarted a run of nine goals in 1 games.

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Watkins is key to Villa’s success, and regardless of interest, Villa are likely to do everything they can to keep the striker.Watkins is key to Villa’s success, and regardless of interest, Villa are likely to do everything they can to keep the striker.
Watkins is key to Villa’s success, and regardless of interest, Villa are likely to do everything they can to keep the striker. | Getty Images

The form of the former Brentford striker has been one of the key factor behind Villa’s push for a top six place - but he will be severely tested when he faces Magpies defensive duo Sven Botman and Fabian Schar, who head into the game rated as the Premier League’s meanest centre-back partnership after helping United concede just 21 goals in 29 games so far this season. Former Villarreal manager Emery hailed the form of Watkins and laid down a challenge for his striker and set him a target ahead of his clash with the Magpies.

Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Friday morning, Emery said: “We are speaking about Ollie a lot because he’s playing well. He’s scoring and being the protagonist in each match. He’ll face another challenge. He will play against Schar, Botman and Pope. His challenge tomorrow is to be competitive. Hopefully he’ll score. If he doesn’t, he will assist and help us win the match.”

Emery admitted the game against Eddie Howe’s side could be a ‘key moment’ in his side’s late push for a place in European competition. Villa currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League table, and whilst they are nine points shy of the Champions League spots, they remain firmly in contention for a place in next season’s Europa League and Europa Conference League.

Assessing the competition for a top six spot, Emery said: “We want to improve and add a new target in our way. We are now candidates to play for European positions next year. It will be difficult. We are facing teams like Liverpool, Brentford, Brighton and Chelsea. Progressively we want to be candidates to stay there. Tomorrow is a new three points and a key moment to be there or not.”

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