Somewhat strangely, Villa find themselves on the cusp of a cup final this evening. All that stands in their way is Leicester, the two sides having drawn 1-1 in the first leg at the King Power. It was a good result, obviously.
In recent years, I’ve dismissed cup competitions for Villa because we’ve been up against it, and the extra games don’t seem to help survival or promotion. They’re a distraction: fatigue, injury, possible demoralization. The only value has seemed to be in getting minutes in match conditions for players and combinations that don’t start regularly.
But tonight’s game is a little different. Villa are on an upswing, growing into a new system, and playing high-quality opposition. There’s the ghost of the 6-1 thrashing by Manchester City to exorcise. Which, we may have done already. But I don’t think it’ll really be out of the players’ minds until we beat a quality side and show we can get results.
This is not a small thing, given we’ll likely need to take a point or four off the some of the stumbling ‘giants’ to see us safe. And to do that, we’ve got to embrace the most basic element: Fight. Get in their faces, refuse to let them play freely. Making them earn everything they get, and either gain some periods of control, or keep things at a stalemate further up the pitch.
There’s no shame in losing to a better team as long as you play well. And whether Villa progress to face Manchester City for a third time is something to worry about later. Beating Leicester at home could be what we need to really kick on to the real prize, which is just staying up. I’ve no idea whether the prospect of facing City again will hinder the performance, but I’m thinking the players will also choose to worry about that later.
Of course, the other thing on everyone’s mind is whether and when we see Samatta. Keinan Davis has returned to training, but one wonders if it might be too early for him to actually start. Dean’s been cagey, talking about what’s worked so far, and that he has to consider sticking with that. My feeling is that given Drinkwater’s instant inclusion, it would only make sense for Smith to give Ally a start and get the minutes with the team under his belt in advance of the vital weekend fixture at Bournemouth. Smith did say the intensity in training was a bit more than Samatta seemed to be used to at Genk. He should be fit enough, so I’m guessing he gets the nod if Dean feels it doesn’t undermine the system too much.
My guess is that we see Jack, Ally, and Ghazi leading the front line. What gets interesting is that with Luiz coming off the bench to spectacular effect the last two matches, has he forced his way into the side? Would be hard on Marvelous, who’s also raised his game. Drinkwater…well, if he’s going to do anything, he still needs minutes. Hourihane seems to be the permanent odd man out. For now, anyway. And I think Ghazi is just more ‘dangerous’ overall to defenses that Trezeguet. There’s rotation and all the rest to consider, but after more than a week off, you’d like to think we’re ready for this one and the weekend.
So. Nothing brilliant. All I can say is here’s to a strong, battling performance and perhaps a brilliant debut goal for our new striker.
Over to you.