As over 30,000 Villa fans made their way down the M40 on Sunday, all were dreaming of a return trip in six weeks’ time. What was remarkable was that many of the travelling support were probably pretty confident of seeing Villa’s first outright win at Wembley in nearly two decades. What was even more remarkable was the confident, assured manner in which Villa turned this dream into a reality.
Here’s a look at the Good and, erm, the Bad and the Ugly of a truly memorable day.
I’ll do my very best to keep this from rolling over into dissertation length. What a day, and what an on-field display to mark it. That was perhaps as complete a performance as we’ve seen from Villa in a long, long while, and there can be no question that Villa were the deserved winners.
Tim Sherwood got his tactics spot on and must be every bit as good a man manager and motivator as Paul Lambert was a terrible one. The Villa of old would have crumbled after Liverpool’s opener – Sherwood’s Villa were level within six minutes and then continued to dominate as they had for the first half-hour.
The difference from a couple of months ago is astounding – like a phoenix from the ashes, Villa’s belief has returned, and the players should be returning to Wembley in six weeks’ time really, truly feeling that they can write themselves into club folklore.
The midfield axis of Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley and Ashley Westwood was absolutely tremendous, largely shutting out Philippe Coutinho, who was always bound to be an average Liverpool side’s only real threat. They played through us for the Brazilian to score, but aside from that one defensive lapse there was a bare minimum of threat posed by Liverpool for the entirety of the game.
This is the section where I usually single out Delph’s display, but to do so on this occasion would be to do Cleverley and Westwood a disservice. Based on all three central midfield performances, Carlos Sanchez may find it difficult to get himself back in the team. Sanchez’s advantage has always looked to be his defensive capabilities but Sunday’s trio did a superb job of both protecting the Villa defence and turning defensive situations into attacking ones.
Christian Benteke was sensational, winning everything and anything in the air and taking his goal as only a man with the confidence of eight goals in his previous six games can. The Sherwood effect is much more than revitalising Benteke, but it is there that it is most notable.
Jack Grealish, on only his fifth (FIFTH!) start for the club, looked as though he’s been the creative star of our side for years – I’m in danger of re-treading old ground here, but the composure, skill and swagger he shows on the ball is unbelievable for a 19-year-old. If he is kept on the right track – he seems very un-Sterling-like in his attitude, so that shouldn’t be a problem – he could and probably should have teams built around him over the next few years.
The final word, however, has to go to the fans. Nothing is better than passing Villa flag after Villa flag on the motorway, or seeing the club’s fantastic support take over the Wembley area. Inside the ground was a cacophony of noise, something which Sherwood has acknowledged played a crucial role in the victory. Lambert’s Villa lost the attention and the enthusiasm of the fans – Sherwood’s Villa have recaptured their imaginations, and long may it continue.
Click ‘Next’ for the Bad & Ugly of Villa’s Wembley success