It was surprising to learn this morning that we haven’t played Villa in the FA Cup for twenty-five years. Even more so that we haven’t scored or beaten them since Mark Falco grabbed the only goal of the game in February 1982.
That’s sent a few of you scrabbling to the history books. Mark who?
Villa have fallen on hard times and after several seasons battling relegation, last year they gave up the ghost and took ineptitude to a new low. The Championship hasn’t been kind to them. Despite replacing Roberto Di Matteo with Steve Bruce, haven’t made an impression on the play-offs.
They will, though, field their strongest side. None of this rotation malarkey for them; that’s for the Premier League ‘big boys’ with their oh-s0-impressive squads. Or not as Ernie Howe found out yesterday. Quite why Bournemouth would change the starting line-up so much is beyond me but fair play to Millwall for humiliating them.
That’s what we have to avoid today but we also need to build on the momentum and the feelgood factor that schooling Chelsea gave to us. In my view, fielding our strongest side today is a pre-requisite, using the game to keep the movement and passing at its peak.
We didn’t have a physically demanding Christmas; our games were spaced out nicely and we had a good recovery time. Taking full advantage of that, goals were easy to come by and the defence was comfortable. Two goals against in three games was a nice return.
Enforced rotation through suspension means Walker and Vertonghen both got a rest on Boxing Day. It saved Mauricio Pochettino making the decision and paid dividends against Chelsea. That gave us an extra spark against Chelsea and the confidence of that victory ought to boost us further, energy-wise.
That’s not to say that we can’t mix things up a bit. Dele Alli is in the form of his life so if he plays, rest Harry Kane or vice versa. If I’m honest, I’d rather Kane were rested so that Vincent Janssen gets a runout and the chance of a goal.
He’s a hard-working player but he’s finding the leap from the Dutch Eredivisie to Premier League massive. Before he is written off entirely, I think we ought to remember that only eighteen months ago, he’d just finished his second season as a professional in the Dutch second tier. He was bound to plateau at some point.
The interesting prospect is Harry Winks; another ninety minutes in midfield would do his development the world of good and this is the match to do it in. The key to winning is to avoid over-rotating; the defence, along with the Dier / Dembele axis in midfield, should remain intact but it won’t. A better argument for stability is that Michel Worm will play and too many changes leave us vulnerable. I suspect though that Kevin Wimmer is set to start, along with Trippier.
This is a match we should win comfortably and I’m tipping us to do so. Villa have drawn more times than a sketch artist on Las Ramblas but we ought to be too good no matter what side we put out. 3 – 1, I think.