Unai Emery has termed Aston Villa’s hopes of Champions League football as “maybe impossible” ahead of their crunch visit to Premier League top-four rivals Manchester United.
Sixth-placed Villa are six points adrift of United, who occupy the final Champions League spot and have played two fewer games, going into Sunday’s showdown at Old Trafford.
“The last step is to keep in the European places,” said Villa manager Emery, whose side are unbeaten in 10 games having won eight of those.
“We escaped the bottom, we got top 10 and now the European places is the last step but it is more difficult.
“There’s still five matches to play for us, but not for Liverpool, Brighton, Manchester United.
“We have to face the match on Sunday enjoying this opportunity we have in front of us.
“Of course, Europe could be Champions League, Europa League or Europa Conference League.
“Champions League is very, very difficult, maybe impossible.
“Europa League and Conference League could be, but as well it’s going to be very difficult.”
Emery began his Villa reign in November with a super-charged 3-1 home victory over United.
At the time Villa – who lost 4-2 at United in the Carabao Cup a few days later – were just one point above the relegation zone and playing in Europe for the first time since 2010-11 seemed highly improbable.
But having beaten Fulham in midweek for a sixth win in seven games, Emery said: “We are now fighting teams like Tottenham and Liverpool, three or four years ago they were both playing in the Champions League final.
“We are now fighting with those teams, with the same players, and then Brighton, who are having an exceptional season, playing brilliant and big performances as a team, deserving to be there as well.
“And we are with them. Three months ago, we were a big (points) difference off them.
“We deserve to have this opportunity and to have the last new target in front – enjoy it with our supporters and, of course, trying to be very demanding trying to get it.”
Villa will again be without Matty Cash, Philippe Coutinho, Leon Bailey and Boubacar Kamara at Old Trafford.
Emery says the four players are “close” to returning and hopes they can all train next week.