Aston VillaEredivisieFootballjohn mcginnleon baileyollie watkinsPremier Leagueunai emeryyouri tielemans

AZ icon says £25m Aston Villa star was ‘the difference’ in Conference League win

Leon Bailey’s brilliant opening goal highlighted the gulf in class between Aston Villa and AZ Alkmaar as Unai Emery’s side cruised to a 4-1 Europa Conference League win in the Netherlands. 

At least, that is the view of Kenneth Perez. The former AZ icon highlighting the considerable difference between the hosts and their expensively-assembled, brilliantly-coached visitors on a one-sided night in Alkmaar. 

Aston Villa cruised past one of the finest teams in Dutch football, Leon Bailey, Youri Tielemans, Ollie Watkins and John McGinn all finding the net before Ibrahim Sadiq’s stunning consolation. 

And, for Perez, the nature of Bailey’s opener set an early marker, the £25 million signing from Bayer Leverkusen thumping into the bottom corner shortly before AZ talisman Vangelis Pavlidis choked at a similar opportunity. 

Aston Villa cruise past AZ Alkmaar

AZ Alkmaar v Aston Villa FC: Group E - UEFA Europa Conference League 2023/24
Photo by Patrick Goosen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

“Aston Villa is simply more skilled (than AZ). They play at a higher speed. That is the difference between these types of teams,” Perez, who also represented Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente during his playing career, tells ESPN. 

“Villa can simply do things at a faster pace, while AZ takes too long. Aston Villa punishes them, AZ does not. Everything Aston Villa does compared to AZ is done with more speed, with more power.

“Like that shot from Bailey. Isn’t that really powerful (compared to) when you see Pavlidis’ shot later?” 

Leon Bailey sets Villa on their way

Pavlidis, AZ’s top scorer and one of the most in-form forwards in Europe, let Villa off the hook a couple of times in the first-half, the Midland giants ruthlessly punishing the hosts for their profligacy.

Aston Villa have now scored four goals in two successive games. They have found the net more than three times in a match eight times so far in 2023/24 too.

Tielemans, much-criticised since his summer arrival from Leicester, produced his finest display for his new club in Alkmaar. All poise and purpose. Diego Carlos and Clement Lenglet staked their claim in rare starts at the back meanwhile, as Boubacar Kamara, Lucas Digne and Matty Cash offered another reminder of their progress under Emery.

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