Ezri Konsa interview, Aston Villa defender on wonder goal against Brentford and working on body shape with Unai Emery

5 minute read

“I do not think I will ever top that in my career,” Ezri Konsa tells Sky Sports. “It was one of those moments where I saw the pitch open up and thought, ‘Why not go for a run?’ Before I knew it I was in front of goal. Thankfully, it went in.”

You know that it is special when a player is describing a goal in a pre-season tournament as the best of his career. Konsa started the run near the left side of his own area. “I do not really know what I was doing there.” He only stopped when it came time to celebrate.

“I did not know what to do, to be honest with you,” he laughs. “And obviously I played for Brentford so there was a bit of respect there as well. Maybe when I score in the Premier League this year there will be a bit more of a celebration from me.”

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Ezri Konsa’s sensational solo goal for Aston Villa against Brentford

Konsa is speaking at Aston Villa’s training ground, fresh from that summer tour of the United States - although fresh is maybe not the right word. There is a bit of jet lag, he admits. They had to train hard too in their first pre-season under Unai Emery. “All work,” he says.

“We did have the afternoon off sometimes. We went to the White House, did some sightseeing. It was nice.” Back home, any tiredness is not enough to quell the excitement surrounding Emery’s Villa right now. This is a team on the up - and in it together.

“It feels amazing. Everyone is enjoying coming to training every day. We are all close. When the boss came in, he wanted us to be like a family, a small family. I would say that ever since he has come in that is what we have been. I feel that on the pitch. We trust each other more and we are getting results from it.”

Villa were three places above the Premier League relegation zone when Emery arrived in October. They were three places below the Champions League places by the end of the season and back in European competition for the first time in over a decade.

A team that looked devoid of any identity were transformed. Players who had been doubted proved those doubters wrong. Konsa’s own form had dipped under Emery’s predecessor Steven Gerrard but he has hit new heights since. Back to his best and then some.

“I have improved massively under him. His CV speaks for itself, his experience, the players he has worked with and the clubs for which he has worked. I am only going to improve by working with him more. I am looking forward to having a full season under him.”

Ezri Konsa's heatmap and passing sonar for Aston Villa in the 2022/23 Premier League season

Image: Konsa’s heatmap and passing for Aston Villa in the 2022/23 Premier League season

Detail is the word that keeps coming up with Emery. Whether it is lengthy video sessions or the time out on the training ground, nothing is left to chance. Players are adjusting to the greater scrutiny. Even their body shape when defending has had to change.

“He likes to do it slightly differently to what we are used to. When the ball goes over your head, the way you need to turn is completely different to what I and a few of the other boys have been taught. We are all getting used to it and we are all enjoying it.”

Now 25, Konsa had already made 100 appearances in the Premier League before working with Emery so it might sound strange that he has had to relearn the art of defending under his new boss. But he had the humility to do it and he has not been alone.

“Tyrone Mings has more experience than me and he is still learning. Diego Carlos has lots of experience playing in different countries and he is still learning as well. We are all still learning and we enjoy coming into training every day and learning new things.”

It can be demanding. Villa’s high line was a feature under Emery last season. “That is something that he still wants us to do but there were a few occasions in pre-season where we got it wrong. It is something that we are still learning and trying to perfect.”

There will be tweaks too. The signing of Spain international Pau Torres adds another centre-back to the squad and Emery appears intent on deploying him alongside Konsa and Tyrone Mings at times. One of the full-backs will be retained but encouraged to push on.

If that is Matty Cash, expect Torres to start at left-back. If it is Alex Moreno, Konsa will be operating at right-back. Some centre-backs struggle when dragged wide but his pace and mobility make him one of the best one-on-one defenders in the Premier League.

“He has put it in our minds that when we build up it is a three. And even when I am exposed on the right, I am very comfortable defending one-on-one situations. It is not a problem. It is something defenders have to do. It is a challenge that I always look forward to.”

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If Torres brings competition for his place, Moussa Diaby, the winger signed from Bayer Leverkusen, brings competition in training. “He is very quick, an exciting player, and someone that you should look out for in the Premier League,” says Konsa.

“All the new signings have settled in really well. They came to America with us and we spent 12 days together bonding every day. If you know football, you know that the quality that we have brought into our team is going to help us a lot this season.”

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Emery has strengthened the squad this summer with a view to competing on four fronts - chasing European qualification through the Premier League while trying to end Villa’s 27-year wait for a major trophy in one of the three cup competitions.

Europe is a new challenge for Konsa. “I have never done it but I am looking forward to it very much. It is something that I have wanted to do since I was a kid, always watching it on television during the week. For me to be involved myself is a dream come true.”

The target for Villa? “It is about continuing on from last season but doing better. Being consistent. Maintaining European football too.”

And for Konsa himself? “I just want to keep learning and improving.”

Under Emery, that seems inevitable.

_ Watch Newcastle United vs Aston Villa live on Sky Sports Premier League from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm_