By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Man City – League Cup Final
Despite the less-than-stellar season Villa are currently enduring in the league, they have managed to muddle and scrap their way to a shot at the first silverware of the season. Their final obstacle? Manchester City. No biggie.
Villa currently occupy 19th, while City have a firm grip of 2nd, which at this point is the best they can hope for. The gulf in quality is significant, and undeniable. That hasn’t always prevented underdog victories in the past, however.
Can Villa overturn the odds and claim the season’s first accolade?
Aston Villa – D W L L L
Man City – D W L W W
Dean Smith on the final
“I’ve experienced winning last year, and I’ve experienced losing in the EFL Trophy with Walsall there. The emotions are streets apart. It’s a place where you’ve got to go and try to win because winning is the best feeling when you’re there.
“You still look back 24 years when Ian Taylor and Andy Townsend lifted the trophy and 1994 with Dalian Atkinson and Dean Saunders. They’re names that are etched in Aston Villa fans’ heads.
“It’s an opportunity now for our players to go and etch themselves into the history of the Football Club.”
On Manchester City
“When I saw the team sheet [against Real Madrid] and saw David Silva wasn’t playing, Sergio Aguero wasn’t playing and Sterling wasn’t playing, I thought they must be worried about playing Aston Villa!
“They’re a fantastic team, whichever 11 they put out, and they have a fantastic coach. That’s why they’re such massive favourites in the game and why they can go to a place like the Bernabeu and get a result like they did.
“We also know that we can push them. We went there earlier in the season and there was an absolute belief that we could beat them that day.
“I like being the underdog because we can go out and play without anyone expecting us to win, but we have also have that drive to prove people wrong.”
Pep Guardiola on the final
“It is so difficult to reach a final so being there again it is a great achievement.
“Hopefully for the fans we can win it. The result the last day is past and we focus on the final. It is a different competition with a historic team. I think it will be a fantastic game.
“The night after Madrid we were calm and then Madrid was gone and we were thinking about Aston Villa, and soon we will be thinking about Sheffield Wednesday. You can lose games or competitions but that is the only way you can be there every year.”
Podcast Wembley Preview
Pep Guardiola’s aggressive and persistent high press is well known, and a highly emulated strategy in the modern game. City have stuck mostly to their 4-3-3 formation, with either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus up front, flanked by Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez, backed up by the imperious duo of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. Their defence is still a little rag-tag, with midfielder Fernadinho deputising for Aymeric Laporte, who is once again injured.
Their defence might not be the force that would be expected of a team of City’s calibre, but then again with their midfield dominance and the sheer threat of their attack, it doesn’t tend to matter anyway. 29 goals conceded is still not a major concern, despite being more than most of their immediate opponents except Chelsea (37).
Most teams don’t get close enough to their defence to test them anyway. An average possession of 61.5% and a pass completion of 88.9% shows they dominate games more consistently than anybody else in the league. They force their way up the field and push back hard, and eventually the opposition will crumble under the pressure.
As would be expected, Guardiola wants his fullbacks to push up high and assist the attack. Overwhelming pressure and overloading the half-spaces between the lines are the key to his strategy – they spend an average of 37% of their time in the opposition’s defensive third, and only 20% in their own. The rest of the game is batted around in the midfield, and that is where they shine brightest.
627 (89%) of their passes per game are short, and most of these are in the middle of the pitch. They play short to each other and drive forward through De Bruyne, who tops the league for assists with 16. They only play 50 (7%) long balls per game – they simply do not need them. They excel at creating chances with individual skill, almost daring their opponents to try and come near them.
All of this culminates into 68 goals from 72.65 xG and 29 conceded from 27.25 xGA. You could argue they are underperforming in both areas, which goes to show how hard they are to play against.
Nobody ever said this would be easy.
One to Watch
Kevin De Bruyne remains the obvious stand-out star in a team full of world class players. His eight goals and 16 assists give them the highest goal contribution in the team. He chips in with 3.7 key passes per game, almost all of them forward, and plenty of them risky – his pass success of 81.7% is by now means low, but it is among the lowest in the team.
His teammates will look to play through him whenever they can. Wherever he is, it can be expected that the ball will find its way there sooner rather than later.
Man City 2-4 Aston Villa – 25-09-2012
The last time these two sides met in the League Cup Villa twice came from behind, securing a win in extra time though Gabby Agbonlahor and Charles N’Zogbia.
Aston Villa 1-6 Man City – 12-01-2020
The less said about this one, the better.
How it could play out
Villa are clearly the underdogs here, and in a big way. It’s the league’s best and most ferocious attack vs the shakiest and leakiest defense. Man City have put nine goals past Villa already, and it is hard to see how Villa will stop them from adding to that tally.
Still without the ball of endless energy that is John McGinn, Villa’s midfield lack any sort of heart or guile, and offered little resistance to City last time out. The battle of the middle is skewed heavily in City’s favour, even despite Villa’s acquisition of one of City’s players for the future, Douglas Luiz.
Meanwhile, all City are lacking at the moment is Aymeric Laporte – his absence has been felt by them and is a big part of why they are so far behind Liverpool in the league. Fernadinho is by no means doing a bad job in their defence, but he is the only clear chink in their armour. If Villa are to win, exploiting that square peg is the clearest way to do it.
They are, of course, not invincible. Norwich managed to turn them over earlier in the season, and they have failed to win some games they should have walked through. Hopefully they will disregard this, come into the game believing they are dead-certs to win, and suffer a shock defeat. It wouldn’t be the first time a team has lost a game they should win due to hubris.
Villa are the underdog, but despite an unreliable defence their attack is functioning pretty well. 34 goals is the 10th best in the league, a stat that shows they are worthy of battling higher up the league. And, as always, with a player like Grealish pulling the strings, they are always capable of surprising anybody.
Villa can win this game – to do so, they need to summon up the spirit they showed in the early stages of the season, when their performances were putting the top teams firmly on the back foot for large spells. If they can do that and rally enough to see the game out, this could be a defining moment in their season.
Believe, and anything is possible.
Aston Villa 1-0 Man City
This is a shot at glory for the first time in a while. The claret-and-blue goggles are firmly in place for this prediction. After all, stranger things have happened, right?