About ten years ago, Unai Emery spoke of his dream of one day winning the Champions League.
He coached Valencia, who were in the group stage a year after reaching the last 16 under him.
Emery could no longer lead the Spanish club to the knockout stages at the time, and the last 16 were the closest he had ever come to a Champions League trophy.
He couldn’t do better with Valencia or his other clubs since: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.
But in Villarreal he has another chance. The small Spanish club hosts Juventus in the first leg of the round of 16 on Tuesday.
“You don’t play in the Champions League every year, so you have to take advantage of it when you do,” Emery said on Monday. “You have to give everything you have. We are not the favorites but we have shown that we can beat teams at the level of Juventus. We have shown that we deserve to be where we are right now.
Villarreal make their first round of 16 appearance in 13 years and enter as underdogs against a Juventus side who reached the final five years ago but haven’t made it past the last 16 in the past two seasons .
“The meeting has not yet been decided. Villarreal are going through a good time, and so are we,” said Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri. “Villarreal is a technical team with a great coach. It will be a very tactical match, where you will have to pay attention to details and show patience.
It will be Emery’s fourth attempt to reach the quarter-finals after failing with Valencia in 2011 and twice with PSG in 2017 and 2018. In his other three Champions League appearances, Emery failed to to take his team beyond the group stage while he was with Valencia in 2011-12. , Spartak Moscow in 2012-13 and Sevilla in 2015-16. He didn’t reach the group stage with Villarreal last season, nor with Arsenal the previous two years.
Emery’s European success came in the second-tier Europa League, which he won three times with Sevilla from 2014-2016 and once with Villarreal last season. He was also a runner-up with Arsenal in 2019.
“I always love trying to learn from others but I never lose my essence,” Emery said. “There are many secrets to success, and mine is to always work hard.”
The Spaniard couldn’t thrive at PSG nor could he live up to expectations at Arsenal, where he was often mocked for his poor English while enduring the difficult task of succeeding coach Arsene Wenger.
Emery led Villarreal to the Champions League knockout stage this season in a group that included Manchester United, Atalanta and Young Boys, while Allegri’s Juventus moved up from a group with Malmo, Zenit St. Petersburg and reigning European champion Chelsea.
Villarreal, Champions League semi-finalists in 2006, are unbeaten in four games in all competitions and Emery will have striker Arnaut Danjuma fully fit after being out for nearly two months with injury. The Dutchman scored a hat trick on Saturday in Villarreal’s 4-1 win at Granada in the Spanish league.
Juventus have been knocked out by Porto and Lyon in the round of 16 the past two seasons on the away goals rule which has now been dropped. Allegri’s side are coming off back-to-back draws in the Italian league and have won just one in their last four games in the competition.
The Italian coach won’t be able to count on striker Paulo Dybala and defender Giorgio Chiellini due to injuries, but he will have new signing Dusan Vlahovic, the 22-year-old Serbian striker who arrived from Fiorentina amid expectations high.
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