Mike Taylor, BBC Radio WM
Unai Emery has said very little to dampen excitement in his time at Aston Villa to date. Last season, when others were talking in terms of Villa’s achievement by having stabilised in mid-table, Emery encouraged them not just to be content with safety, but to raise their sights towards European qualification.
Having achieved it, Emery has left nobody in any doubt that he is looking to extend their run in the Conference League deep into the season.
Important, then, to note a slight change of emphasis in his comments after Sunday’s defeat at Liverpool. The ambition is still there, but in reflecting on the opening section of Villa’s season, Emery was realistic about their position just now. "At the beginning we were thinking we were trying to take this match as a test, how we face a team like Liverpool, after Newcastle. We improved on Newcastle, but it’s not enough."
We are conditioned to thinking of the major divide in English football as being between the Premier League and the Championship. But the gap between the midfield of the top flight and the elite group is perhaps largest of all.
It can be crossed temporarily, as Brighton, West Ham and Leicester have shown in recent years; but to become established as a permanent member of that group, as Villa aspire to, is a task of an entirely different order.
The progress under Emery this year has been so rapid that a month ago it seemed entirely reasonable to think of them as top six finishers this season – and they may still achieve that. Their stylish dismissal of weaker opponents in four of their six league and cup games so far has shown their ability.
Some are asking whether that same approach has led them into deep water against stronger sides. You can be sure that Emery will spend the international break studying that, adjusting course if he feels necessary, and Villa fans will surely trust his judgement as he weighs risk and reward.
But Emery has achieved enough, at Villa and previously, to keep faith with his methods. "We have to be collectively strong in our idea," he said at Anfield.
"After we lost to Newcastle and Liverpool – now, they are better than us. But, there is time to continue improving, and to be close to them."
It may be a longer journey to get there than was dreamed in the summer, but it will probably be an entertaining one - and look how far Villa have already travelled in the last year.