Talking Tactics

Can Lopetegui maintain his strong record against Emery?

By Adrian Clarke 25 Jun 2024
Julen Lopetegui and Unai Emery

Adrian Clarke analyses meetings between Basque managers who go head-to-head on opening weekend

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After the release of the 2024/25 Premier League fixtures, Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical battles on the opening weekend.

Match analysis - West Ham United v Aston Villa

West Ham versus Aston Villa will have a Basque flavour to it on the opening weekend, with a pair of experienced tacticians from that Spanish region going head-to-head.

In his first Premier League match in charge at the London Stadium, new West Ham head coach Julen Lopetegui may well feel emboldened by his strong record against opposite number Unai Emery.

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The 57-year-old has lost only one of his seven managerial duels with his compatriot, and collected four points from two matches against Villa as Wolverhampton Wanderers boss in 2022/23.

Lopetegui has largely done a good job of containing Emery in the past, restricting his team to one goal or fewer in six of those seven contests.

In fact, aside from Villarreal’s 4-0 win against Lopetegui’s Sevilla in May 2021 - where they were down to 10 men from 52 minutes onward - every other encounter featured a maximum of two goals.

So, it will not be a surprise if this is a cagey opener.

Lopetegui v Emery record
  Total
Matches 7
Lopetegui wins 3
Draws 3
Emery wins 1
Will Lopetegui opt for 4-4-2?

West Ham's former boss David Moyes used a 4-2-3-1 in 30 out of 38 Premier League matches last season, and that is likely to be one of Lopetegui’s go-to shapes.

At Sevilla he was mainly a 4-3-3 man, but during his short spell at Molineux he preferred a double pivot in central midfield.

Lopetegui's most-used formations at Wolves 22/23 
Formation Times used
4-4-2 10
4-2-3-1 9
4-3-3 4

West Ham’s new head coach is likely to play a No 10 behind a single striker, or go with two up top.

When beating Emery’s Villa 1-0 in May 2023 he started with a classic 4-4-2, and employing that system would be something different for the Hammers.

It was used only once last season under Moyes.

Mohammed Kudus or Jarrod Bowen are capable of partnering a natural centre-forward, so if this is a direction Lopetegui takes, he has the players to make it work.

Matching formations?

Emery’s first-choice set-ups at Villa Park have also been 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1.

In 2022/23 he regularly used twin strikers, but last season his preferred shape saw three attacking midfielders playing behind Ollie Watkins.

Essentially, Lopetegui and Emery are like-minded in the formations they adopt, so we may see them match one another up on 17 August.

Emery's favoured formations at Villa
Formations Times used
4-4-2 27
4-2-3-1 25
4-4-1-1 6
4-2-2-2 2
3-4-2-1 1
3-5-2 1
5-3-2 1
Lopetegui won't worry about possession

Based on previous encounters between these two sides since Emery took charge, and Lopetegui’s own record against him, you can expect Villa to have more of the ball.

Villa have averaged 62.3 per cent possession against West Ham in Emery’s three matches with them as their head coach.

When Lopetegui faced Emery with Wolves, it was Villa who were dominant too, averaging a 58.9 per cent share of the ball.

But Lopetegui collected a win and a draw from those two matches, and he will also be aware that his two victories against Emery in LaLiga came in contests where his Sevilla side registered 43.4 and 45 per cent possession stats respectively.

Determined not to lose his first home match in charge of West Ham, Lopetegui’s focus will likely revolve around keeping a compact defensive shape, before hitting Villa on the break.

These two wily strategists tend to be involved in low-scoring affairs, so if this Matchweek 1 meet-up escalates into a madcap thriller it would be go against the grain.

Lopetegui v Emery goals scored in matches
Goals Total
No goals 0
One goal 2
Two goals 4
Three goals 0
Four goals 1
Lopetegui clean sheets 3
Emery clean sheets  0

Since both managers are excellent at nullifying their rivals’ strengths, it is more plausible they will conjure up another tight, tactical contest.

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