Tactics Tim’s team selection was bizarre, let’s be honest. Key players such as Christian Benteke, Fabian Delph and Jack Grealish could surely have done with a rest ahead of what will be an incredibly draining day in the showpiece at Wembley on Saturday, yet all three played the full 90 minutes.
You’d have thought it would have been an ideal opportunity for Sherwood to get a look at some of the club’s fringe players – I think we’ve all long since given up hope of seeing Carles Gil in a Villa shirt again, but numerous others have not been getting a look in in recent weeks – but perhaps the mauling at Southampton convinced Sherwood that he needed to play the big guns to get a positive result to take into the final. Whatever the reason, it patently didn’t work and it seems hard to argue (with hindsight, admittedly) that picking a team full of non-regulars and youngsters would have been a worse decision.
Jed Steer’s selection in goal, although slightly less of a shock once we heard of Shay Given’s groin injury, is surely a sign that we might well be waving goodbye to Brad Guzan this summer. Steer is cup-tied for the FA Cup final, having featured for Yeovil in four rounds of the competition between November and January while on loan at the Glovers. If Given’s injury rules him out of the game, the final could feasibly be Guzan’s last match at the club and, along with young goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist’s recent broken leg, it also means that 20-year-old U21 goalkeeper Bradley Watkins could find himself a substitute at Wembley.
N’Zogbia and Bacuna are right up there for me as the worst fullback pairing I have ever had to witness – Bacuna’s no more a right-back than Benteke is, and Danny Ings’ early winner came from the Dutchman heading the ball straight to a Burnley player on the edge of Villa’s own area. However, Bacuna can at least be a useful player in midfield (although his crossing needs so much work), unlike N’Zogbia, who continues, for me, to add nothing more than a supporter plucked from the crowd would. Villa have a fair few fullbacks at the club but very few (the reinvigorated Alan Hutton, that’s about it) are anywhere near good enough, and it is perhaps the key position which needs to be urgently addressed in the summer transfer market.
It couldn’t have been more obvious that this game was nothing more than an inconvenient obligation to most of the players, many of whom must surely know that their starting spot at Wembley is virtually guaranteed, something to get through ahead of the grand day out on Saturday. Villa did create a handful of chances on Sunday, but for large portions of the game there was a frightening lack of invention, and the vast majority of the players on show seemed at best distracted and at worst disinterested.
Of course this is at least partially understandable, given what is on the horizon, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing a way to finish a dire league season. Despite the revival under Sherwood, Villa have finished on just 38 points for the third time in the last four seasons. Only rock-bottom QPR lost more games, and only 19th-placed Burnley scored fewer goals.
Even worse is that, in a Premier League which has been argued by many to be of the worst standard we’ve seen for many a year, Villa finished 17th. League position-wise, this makes it officially the club’s worst season since they finished 18th in 1994-95, but even that was in the Premier League’s last season as a 22-team league. The last time Villa finished as low as 17th in a 20-team season was in the pre-Premier League First Division in 1990-91.
However, I think we can all agree that almost all of this damage had already been done by the time Sherwood arrived at the club, and here I must reiterate how much the club, the fans and the players (although I’m sure Carles Gil would argue otherwise) owe him already. If Randy Lerner provides adequate funds over the summer despite the uncertainty about any potential takeover bid for the club rumbling on, Sherwood will have a shot at his first pre-season as a manager, and by August we’ll have an even better idea of what he’s about.
Finally, to the other 25,799 Villa fans travelling down to take their place at Wembley for our club’s biggest day in 15 years – make sure you enjoy the day. Arsenal leading 4-0 at half-time on Sunday was undeniably ominous but Saturday’s game is a one-off, and if Villa can return to the standard they found in the semi-final win over Liverpool, in which they were utterly imperious, I might just see you all in dreamland come Saturday evening. UTV
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