The year is 2020; it is 187 years since Britain abolished slavery; 57 years since Martin Luther King had a dream and roughly 6 months since George Floyd could not breathe due to a police officer kneeling on his neck. Racism is systemic, institutional and still prevalent across the world. The horrific murder of George Floyd was filmed and it spread across the internet, causing another wave of black lives matter protests; but this was not the start of BLM. The movement actually began in 2013, after George Zimmerman was acquitted for the shooting of African-American teenager, Trayvon Martin. It then gained national recognition in 2014 after another young black man, this time named Michael Brown, was fatally shot by the Police in Ferguson. This time, it sparked big protests across America.Read More »
I’m sure that anyone reading this shares my disgust at the introduction of pay per view football this weekend, for the truly sickening price of £14.95 for a single match. Yet, in reality, this is just the latest chapter of ordinary football fans being extorted away from our own game. To add insult to injury, this outrageous price has been introduced during a pandemic, as at least 4.5% of the nation are unemployed as thousands of jobs continue to be axed by companies trying to save cash.Read More »
Another year and another trip to Wembley for the famous Claret and Blue. Pep Fraudiola may think that the League Cup needs scrapping for the good of English football (his clubs chances in the Champions League) but yesterday served as a stark reminder of just how wrong he is. Football is not about oil money, it’s not about alleviating a hectic schedule or even about the frequency of festive injuries. Football is about us, the hundreds of euphoric Brummies storming onto a floodlit pitch to celebrate with their heroes.
We’ve seen it all since Phil Dowd ruined our last League Cup final; a gradual decay and growing frustration; an FA cup final humiliation; 17 points and relegation; Bruce, Xia then Fulham, minutes away from liquidation. Edens, Sawiris and Smith, a new foundation; 10 wins in a row, growing expectation; Promotion at Wembley, Jack’s four day celebration.
All of this in a decade, yet we remain; this is our club and this is our beautiful game. As the roof was launched clean off of our cathedral last night, the founders of the football league had mounted the ultimate defence of the League Cup. We were the underdogs and 180 minutes against Leicester seemed like an impossible task to anybody present when they beat us 4-1 earlier in the season. But this is football and anything can happen.
Knockout competitons are special for this exact reason; last season we saw some of the most exhilarating matches ever in Europe as both Liverpool and Spurs overcame seemingly insurmountable odds in the most dramatic of fashions. But football is not just for teams in Europe, it is for all of us. If you want to watch a money dominated procession contested by only a few teams then stick Formula One on.
For top managers like Klopp and Pep, who have declared war on our domestic compeitions this year, Villa’s League Cup campagn should be a slice of humble pie. Yes, the festive fixture list may be ‘hectic’ and this may result in a few injuries. Infact, for us it has been devastating as we’ve had to play 5 games without a striker, yet I didn’t see Dean Smith or the fans complaining last night. I didn’t see a previously written-off Orjan Nyland berating the festive schedule while he made a trio of scintilating saves and played his way back into the hearts of the Villa faithful. Instead, I saw a sea of exaltation as some of the most deserving fans in the land belted out Que Sera, Sera; overjoyed at another chance to see their club at Wembley.
The irony is that en route to our defence of the League Cup, we have barely had a game to win. After Brighton (A) came the Dingles, their shirt numbers came to a combined 622 and we dispatched them by two goals to one; Elmohamady grabbed the winner in the 57th minute. Liverpool followed Wolves and we beat the World Champions 5-0; a demolition, a humiliation for them and a loss that will forever be a stain on what may well become an unbeaten season. Not everybody can mix it with Elmohamady and clearly our Egyptian was a step too far for Klopp’s men. It could have been Nuno or Klopp celebrating on the touchline last night and sending their fans into rapture; if only they had respected the cup.
But it wasn’t, this was Aston Villa’s night and the players certainly earned it. In the first leg, our new system paid dividends as Guilbert took advantage of his more attacking role and poked in a shock opener. Our defence stood firm until a self-inflicted equaliser evened the score for Leicester late on. In reality though, despite their 25 long range stat padders, they were limited to very few chances. It was all to play for last night, and boy did we play.
The game got off to a frenzied start as Nyland made three quite remarkable saves, whilst Schmeichel did well to deal with a Targett cross after some exquisite interplay with Jack. This link-up once again justified our new wing back system on its own, as Jack performed his usual magic, popping the ball off his standing foot and into the path of a charging Targett who fired the ball past a helpless Schmeichel. We had the lead in the tie once again.
Leciester had plenty of shots, yet it was Villa who had the best chances; Grealish curled a sublime pass into Samatta’s path but sadly the debutant could not make the all important connection. Luiz and Nakamba both played a blinder in midfield and are forming a brilliant, combative partnership in the middle of the park. Yet this could not stop Iheanacho sneaking in at the back post and making it 6 goals in 6 games against Villa; this all felt too familiar and even the most optimistic of fans was wracked with pessimistic expectation. We are Villa, we don’t get nice things and a Jamie Vardy winner seemed inevitable, yet it did not come. What did occur, was nothing short of extraordinary.
Elmohamady, the veteran right back who has been at the very heart of this League Cup campaign picked the ball up just into Leicester’s half, took two touches to compose himself and then whipped in a cross that has the ‘bend it like Beckham’ producers scrambling back into the studio. This was a cross that eliminates every bit of poor defending he has ever produced (a lot) from my mind. It soared through the air on the perfect trajectory and right on cue was his fellow Egyptian, Trezeguet, who sprinted onto the physics defying cross and passed a delicate volley back across the goal and into the net.
Cue bedlam, cue limbs and cue ‘a return to the dark ages’. We are the mighty Aston Villa and we were back in the lead, back in the cup final and back on the pitch. Just over a month since Vardy had mocked the Holte end, he left the pitch distraught and just like Deeney, he had learned his lesson. For us, this was a special night and Wembley awaits; who knows, we might even turn up and find a celebratory scarf under all our seats…
Que Sera Sera, UTV and thanks for reading.
By Callum Richardson ( @C_G_Richardson )
Saturday marks Villa’s first cup final in the next two weeks, and it is essential that we kick off this vital run with a win against the Saints. Anything else would only exacerbate the gap that is beginning to appear between Aston Villa and the teams hoping to avoid a relegation battle. Everton currently sit 3 points ahead of the Villa on 18 points but if they do get Ancelotti on board then this will likely change.
After three league losses in a row, there may not be a better Christmas present than returning home to host a club lower down on the table when you’re already sitting in seventeenth, and that’s what Villa are getting as 27/20 favourites over the Saints Saturday afternoon.
For Villa, form does not make good viewing. Our league form (or lack of) actually stretches back further than the three games; since Targett’s last minute winner against Brighton, we have 4 points from 8 games. This run did involved a string of challenging games; Dean Smith’s side played 7 of the top 8 teams in the league during this period; the only win came against Newcastle who now sit in 11th. As a result, whilst this form could have an impact on the players confidence (and has certainly changed the mood of fans) it is perhaps less concerning when the difficulty of our matches is accounted for.
Southampton go into this match level on points with Villa but with a lesser goal difference. They are also out of form having lost their last two games; against West Ham and Newcastle respectively. This brings me onto a vital difference between the sides that does give me some confidence for Saturday and this is Southampton’s record against teams that Villa have achieved good results against. In games against Newcastle, Everton and West Ham, Saints came away with 0 points; Villa got 7 from the same set of fixtures and outplayed all of the above.
Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side are good on the road though, winning four games away from home in all competitions this year. Danny Ings has notched 9 goals so far this season and is a clear sign of the value that a proven Premier League striker can be to a struggling side. It will be vital to limit Ings chances infront of net if we are to get the result we so desperately need. Ings’ form is in stark contrast to that of Wesley, who has 4 goals thus far. A few bad performances have seen Villa fans begin to pile pressure on the newlly signed Brazilian striker; many would even prefer Kodjia starting despite the fact that he could barely get a kick in the Championship last season. Kodjia was at the double midweek before Wesley slotted home with minuted to go; it will be fascinating to see which striker Smith opts for on Saturday. In all honesty though, I don’t hold much faith in either making the difference; it is likely that we will have to rely on our midfield once again.
Villa should boss the game by taking control in the middle of the park; we have midfielders worthy of a far higher league position and they have impressed so far this campaign. Southampton usually line up in a 4-4-2 with Ward-Prowse and Højbjerg in the middle. The former is basically a right footed Conor Hourihane and the latter is yet to bag a goaol or assist this season. Individually, our central midfielders should have this battle all tied up, especially with Grealish floating inside to get involved, and that is before tactics and shape are given impetus. Our midfield three also gives us a numerical advantage in the middle of the park; making this count will likely be a deciding factor on Saturday.
In terms of injuries, Villa will be without Mings and Davis whilst Southampton’s Boufal remains a doubt. Romeu makes his return to fitness this weekend but it is unlikely that he will make the starting XI.
With injuries in mind, here is how I would line up this weekend:
With strikers, I believe form is virtually everything and Wesley has looked incredibly short on this; Kodjia consequently gets the nod by default as there isn’t really another option. El Ghazi narrowly pips Trezeguet to the starting place for me; both players have impressed me so far and have scored 3 goals in the process but El Ghazi has also managed to assist 4 goals and is a little more consistent.
In midfield, I would start Luiz at the base of the three ahead of Nakamba and the logic behind this is quite simply ball retention. Nakamba is fantastic at winning the ball back but he also seems pretty talented at giving it away again. Conversely, Douglas Luiz is a Rolls-Royce in the centre of the park and is technically an elite level footballer. A home game against Southampton requires a positive, attacking mentality; this midfield three (with Grealish too) certainly ticks that box.
Defensively, the loss of Mings is huge. Last week saw Hause get a start and whilst I do like Hause and saw him receive plaudits online, I find it hard to ignore the fact that both of the Blades goals came down his side. Infact, I believe Mings would have stopped the cross that led to the first goal and would have done more to put off Fleck from bagging his second of the match. I have been very impressed with Konsa so far and would be surprised if he is not starting.
Aston Villa 3-1 Southampton
I’m hopeful that we will simply have too much for Southampton in midfield on Saturday. This was the case against similarly able opponents this season and the home advantage should further aid this.
Please send in your Lineups, score predictions and thoughts on Twitter.
Thanks for reading and UTV!
By Callum Richardson
We are five games into our first season back in the elite tier of English football and have four points to show for our hard work thus far. This places us one point above the drop zone but realistically we have been unfortunate; refereeing howlers have certainly hurt us and over 90 minutes, we should have come away with three points against both Bournemouth and West Ham based on the balance of play. Additionally, given the influx of new signings, we should only improve as our players continue to gel and get to grips with the style of football Deano demands.Read More »