Without meaning to upstage Fear and his Build Upor anything, I just thought the Villa`s first major cup final in 10 years, first trophy win for 14 and an all round blinder of a day, deserves a much, MUCH bigger build up.
The League cup through all its guises has always been a trophy undervalued by the country which may have something to do with its origins. In the late 1950`s when all the major teams were having flood lights installed, the League Cup was created in 1960/61, in order to exploit the prospect of midweek games. When you compare it with its competition, the FA Cup, it will always come of worse. The FA Cup, sponsored by E.ON of course, has taken a bit of battering itself over the last few years and FA plans to move FA Cup clashes to midweek and remove the glamour of the Cup weekends then it too will be consigned to the same fate.
BUT... We`re here and my god, how badly do we want this trophy?? It`s a been a long wait for the Villa. 1996 was a long time ago and we`ve a seen a lot of change over the last 14 years. We`ve had managerial changes a plenty and a significant change in ownership, we all know we`re improving and we will all know we are going in the right direction.
To win this cup will add so much to us. The club will stating that finally, we`ve won something and we`re here to compete. Doesn`t matter how insignificant this trophy may be to others, we`re in the final and we want it. So much so that we`ve barely even considered the prospect of defeat.
Is the Milk cup or the Littlewoods trophy or even the Worthington cup, or whatever it`s called this week, important?
Just ask any Villa fan this weekend and they`ll tell you it is.
For the League Cup wiki page Click Here
Way to Wembley
It started way back at the tail end of September, the 21st to be precise. Villa and Manchester United entered the Third Round of the Carling sponsored, League Cup. Due to the European excursions for both clubs (albeit very briefly for Villa), they were given a bye from the second round. Now we have Birmingham`s Aston Villa and Manchester`s United, and with not a London club in sight (unless you`ve got some cracking vision when you`re at Wembley) here`s how they did it...
Third Round: 21st September 2009
ASTON VILLA 1-0 Cardiff City
Heading into the match, Gabby Agbonlahor was in fine form with a scoring run starting at home to Fulham and seeing him net against Birmingham City away and Portsmouth at home. He scored in his fourth consecutive match to hand Villa the victory... and it wasn`t a bad goal either. A cheeky back heel past the keeper just went to prove his confidence.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1-0 Wolverhampton Wanderers
A less than full strength, shall we say, Manchester United team hosted Villa`s Midland`s rivals, Wolves. But Wolves failed to capitalise on an early red card to Fabio Da Silva in only the 30th minute meaning United kicked into their "10 man syndrome" and went on to win the game with a goal from young prospect, Danny Wellbeck.
Fourth Round: 26 October 2009
Sunderland 0-0 ASTON VILLA (0-0 AET, 1-3 on penalties)
What goal keeper`s dreams are made of. 0-0 coming into the last minutes and a poor performance from Villa was set to end in defeat as 'King` Carlos Cuellar (maybe harshly) was judged to have handled in his own box. Up steps Kenwyne Jones, up step Brad Guzan. Guzan goes on to save the penalty and also to stop Sunderland`s ex Manchester United player, Kieran Richardson with a glorious opportunity spurned. Having got us through not only the 90 minutes, but also the extra time, a shootout loomed. 'Mini` Brad went on to save three of the four penalties leaving John Carew, James Collins & Ashley Young to poke home from 12 yards to take us through.
Barnsley 0-2 MANCHESTER UNITED
United travelled to Barnsley and took with them a team that could again be considered a below-strength United team. Not that it proved to matter as Wellbeck again scored in only the 6th minute leaving Michael Owen to wrap things up just before the hour mark.
Fifth Round: 1st December 2009
Portsmouth 2-4 ASTON VILLA
The birth of the prodigal son! James Milner in the middle of the pitch? What is Martin O`Neill thinking? Known not to meddle the team, we were all shocked that he`d actually gone and done what we`d all been screaming for. And what a night it turned to be! Captain Stylian Petrov scored a cracking goal in the 10th minute, only trouble being at the wrong end but before we had chance to despair Emile Heskey levelled when James Milner sent him through on goal with a brilliant searching ball from the centre. Milner then went on to score a fantastic goal of his own and generally run the show before Downing got his first Villa goal, Kanu sneaked on back and Ashley Young made sure of things and put us in the semi final.
MANCHESTER UNITED 2-0 Tottenham Hotspurs
United`s second Premier League opposition of the tournament had a significant gulf in class between their previous fixtures. After the loss to Besitkas in the Champions League, their first home defeat in 23 years, Ferguson was forced to again field his younger players in defence of their ability. They had another chance to set the record straight, and boy did they? Darren Gibson in particular as he grabbed 2 sublime match winning finishes against a Tottenham side that appeared too deflated after the opening 20 minutes. On another night maybe they could have done more with players like Defoe & Lennon, but tonight was just about Darren Gibson.
ASTON VILLA v Blackburn
After Blackburn`s penalties victory over Chelsea had seen both teams draw the opponents they would have preferred rather than either of the Manchester teams. In the first leg Villa travelled with fine, fine support as James Milner again proved his worth to Villa and to England with a 23rd minute away goal to take back to Villa Park. The scenes that followed back on home turf were enough to rival Tranmere. Conceding 2 early goals to Blackburn`s Kalinic had us all feeling it just wasn`t going to be our night. But former Rover`s left back Stephern Warnock returned to haunt his old club pulling one back before a Milner penalty levelled things on the night and gave us the aggregate lead. An Nzonzi credited own goal made us breathe a sigh of relief, Agbonlahor`s finish sent us to the rafters and Heskey`s goal nearly gave us a stroke. Then when the game was won the action never relented as Olsson and Emerton returned things to 5-4 and Ashley Young capped off a remarkable match worthy of Wembley place.
MANCHESTER UNITED v Manchester City
So do you still think he`s not worth £25million Fergie? The player deemed an expensive luxury came to back to bite Sir Alex as his goal and penalty dazed a full strength United side after Ryan Giggs had given them an early lead. The match was going to Old Trafford and Rooney`s four goals there just four days earlier gave United the one thing City are lacking. The drive and desire to win of Wayne Rooney was the key element as United now swept away their bitter rivals with goals from Midfielders Scholes & Carrick before Tevez game City a lifeline with another finish that would have taken them to extra time. But in come Wayne and ram home a 92nd minute winner to set up the first Wembley Villa v United final for 16 years.
For the BBC results pages on
Aston Villa: Click Here
Manchester United: Click Here
Likely line ups
Only in a cup final can every single position in the side come under such scrutiny and debate and can the manager live or die by his decisions. Everybody from pundits, tabloid reporters to sky sports news, from former players to future players and when it`s all we fans can talk about then the manager has to make the right decisions.
Big Brad / Little Brad
It`s caused as much debate as any position in the side. Do we go for the young promising keeper who thus far, has shown weaknesses but has shown some extraordinary skill, or do we go for old hands and the experience that comes with it? It`s a valid argument! Brad Guzan has taken to the Cup Competitions like a duck to water. His performances so far this season have by and large deemed more than acceptable, for who is effectively learning from the trade master then he will get better. We have Big Brad for at least one more season I would think. He may well be nearing retirement age (where I hope he accepts a coaching role) and someone will have to fill his place. If Guzan can continue the progress he has made in this time, then the apprentice could well be the one to take over from the master. In this game though, who do we go for? There`s a large call for Friedel to be between the sticks and take over once Guzan has got us there. Yes they accept that after that Sunderland game we should be grateful to him and he is as much responsible for getting us to this Wembley stage than anyone but they also feel we need the strongest team out there. Then there`s others (myself included) that feel he deserves it, so play him. It`s a decision for Martin though but I can guarantee that whoever is selected will need to be at their very best because everyone will be watching to what happens here.
For the keeper debate Click Here
The Back Four
Stephen Warnock & Richard Dunne. Those two are certainties. The only question marks remain over the choice of right back, namely King Carlos Cuellar. O`Neill clearly likes him and whatever we say about his capability at right back, if he`s fit O`Neill will play him... it`s just a question of where. Yes he is a fantastic centre back and is rightly deserving of the whispers that a Spanish World Cup place is up for grabs. But then there`s James Collins. A bargain of a signing from West Ham and one that many of us knew nothing about. His head wound the other night was a symbol of the type of player he is and equally makes a fantastic player. Then O`Neill thinks, but Luke`s the right back, and is torn because he wants to play Cuellar AND Collins. The obvious reasons are there. He will always leave himself open to criticism for this decision as nobody ever understands playing someone out of position. Again whoever does, be it Cuellar or Luke Young, will have to perform because they too, are going to be heavily watched.
For the back four debate: Click Here
Carew or Heskey or the 4-5-1??
The biggest talking point! Do we play the "donkey who can`t stay on his feet and if he plays any deeper is going to need a snorkel ," or do we play Mr "Hi, look at me, big John Carew, the man more likely to find a nightclub than a decent performance."
It`s been a long time since the Villa have been divided so heavily about a position in the team. Some hate Heskey, some loathe Carew. Some hate the pair of them but some are diehard fans.
There`s Mr. Incredible John Carew, (who apparently is bigger than both me and you?) that could be a world beater, but only when he can be bothered. By far the most inconsistent player in the Villa match day squad. Or there`s the England no.2 striker, Wayne Rooney`s wingman, Emile Heskey. He might have high regard in the management of both O`Neill & Capello but is his link up play and team value really as important as they say?"
If one plays and under performs then do not be surprised to see the news broadcasting their murders. They will be lynched and could easily confirm the departure of the either of the two.
O`Neill has to decide wherever he goes for the team player who may not score, or take the risk of the player the lazy beater. Tough choice?
Or does he go for the 4-5-1 and throw in Fabian Delph? The young lad has come in and shown that despite his size, he bloody loves the tackle! He is full of hustle and bustle but is really lacking in that Premier League experience of what do when he`s on the ball. He has talent, that`s obvious and he will improve to be a great performer in the future, BUT do we play in now?
I vote yes. The United midfield will be packed with Carrick, Fletcher & Scholes and we will have to match them.
We`ve played it against them this season using this and it`s worked brilliantly. We`re capable of going there hitting them with our speed and counter attacking capabilities and let players like Delph, Milner & Petrov to get into the box.
For me it has to be, but what will O`Neill choose?
For the Carew/Heskey debate: Click Here
No Giggs, Anderson, Nani and Ferdinand will always weaken any Alex Ferguson team at the moment. The woes of Manchester United`s years will be compounded the events of the Glazers. The mounting debts have limited their spending power resorting to the second best player in the world just to pay the bills.
Their squad contains the likes of Nani, Anderson, Park Ji Sung, Obertan, and the current Michael Owen, who I`m sorry to all Manchester United`s that may have fell over into these parts, but are the not the calibre of players that Manchester United have always seemed to demand. Yes they are good but they are not Manchester United good.
Ryan Giggs & Luis Nani
The legend himself Ryan Giggs. One of the true players of the game and a model professional. Ask any manager and they will all tell you they would love to have a Ryan Giggs. Every Villan out there would have breathed a slight sigh of relief when we heard he wasn`t going to make the final. And then when Nani got himself sent off against us at Villa Park, he was to miss the final. It was a blow to lose Nani on top of Giggs and will now force Ferguson into playing Park Ji Sung surely? No Ryan Giggs should help us but...
They have another one. Another player of such distinction any manager would hope for. Giggs and Scholes are the model professionals who come to work, play football, go home and have no controversy in the tabloids.
Scholes will be one of the key positions for United on Sunday. The only questions will be the positions next to him. Carrick is a very good typical Manchester United player and worthy of his place in the team. Fletcher, in my opinion is a world class performer. With Scholes with them they are brilliant, but you have to think are they good enough for when there is no Scholes.
If Fergie plays 5 in the middle then the centre will be very busy and limit our wing play capability but if they play 4 and rely on the service of Park and Valencia they will trouble our box with crosses all day.
Wayne Rooney The man to help us win the World Cup? What a player he`s been this season. The departure of Cristiano Ronaldo has allowed Rooney to move central and Manchester United have reaped the rewards. Whatever he hits seems to be going in lately BUT in 180 minutes of football he hasn`t scored against yet. No United player has for that matter but the main reason we were able to pick up four points against them is that we were able to stop this man from scoring.
The "sleeping giant" has long been associated with Aston Villa. With a rich cup winning history is something we have all been proud of but how we`ve longed to get back to the glory days. With the arrival of Martin O`Neill and Randy Lerner has the fans dribbling at the thought of progressing back up the echelons of the Premier League and competing at the top again. Some are wary and feel that O`Neill lacks the tactical nous and the inability to manage big names.
Whatever the case may be the steady ownership of the team coupled by the potential on the pitch at Villa Park, the current Acorns deal and the excellent charity work done by the club, it is in doubt that Aston Villa is a club on the rise.
United on the other hand are different story. Where do you go when you hit the top but down. We have a classic case of what goes up must come down.
If one team was to be named an English institution by the Queen, it`d be Manchester United. Through the days of Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton & George Best until now there has always been almost an aura about them.
Some people hate them. Vividly! But you cannot do anything but respect them.
But now they have the Glazers.
United with the Glazers is not the United of old. When they are crippled with debt and forced into selling star players just to balance the books, then you know they are struggling.
Possibly one of the biggest causalities of foreign ownership and in need of saving.
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that Manchester United are a club in decline.
So United are the favourites are they?
We`re a team on the rise with a plethora of young English talent and they are a team on a fall only get to worse when Giggs & Scholes retire. Have Manchester United ever been labelled a one man team before?
It`s a compliment to Wayne Rooney`s form but there is an element of truth to it. They would not win the Premier League and England would not win the World Cup without him. He will be their main threat as long as he remains a United player!
He`s up against the best defence in the league and a team he hasn`t scored against in the 2 league games. If the defence can hold strong as it has all year, and our players can stand up to the occasion.
Do not expect rampant score lines because it will tight either way.
I`m going for the win of course. Everyone is. If we wake up on Monday morning and the cup isn`t sitting on Martin O`Neill`s desk then it would be the biggest of body blows to the club and for that reason we will not lose.
Aston Villa 2-1 Manchester United
Whatever you`re doing this cup final weekend, enjoy it. Whether you`re sitting at Wembely or sitting on your sofa just make the most of it. I`m going out to the cinema tonight and having a quiet one to take my mind off it before tomorrow`s big day.
This could well turn out to be Aston Villa`s war cry!
For the match thread: Thank God For Midfield