Sunday should be a day of celebration for Aston Villa fans, a confirmation of their return to the big time of English football and a day out in Wembley against one of the best teams in Europe.
However, I’m sure there must also be a feeling of dread that this game will follow the script of Man City’s 6-0 destruction of Watford in last season’s FA Cup final or indeed Villa’s last domestic cup final where they were thrashed 4-0 by a Santi Cazorla inspired Arsenal.
The match prices all point to a very one-sided contest with City as short as 1/9 for the match. The only player in Villa’s 18 man squad in 2015 who will play on Sunday is the outstanding Jack Grealish and he must deliver a huge performance for Villa to have any chance of being competitive.
Only Kevin De Bruyne has made more key passes than Villa’s talisman and Grealish looks a player who could play for nearly every team in the Premier League.
However, the vast majority of his teammates are barely Premier League standard and Dean Smith’s side have been on a slide for a long time now. They haven’t had a greater xG than their opponents in any of their last fourteen matches and they’ve conceded the most amount of goals from set-pieces in the league.
Both statistics are indicative of a team destined for relegation and last week’s capitulation at Southampton wouldn’t inspire any confidence either. Pepe Reina’s short kick-outs were consistently pounced upon by Southampton’s high press and his Villa teammates looked extremely disorganised as if they didn’t know what the former Liverpool and Spain international was going to do next.
The 2-0 scoreline flattered Villa and Dean Smith indicated after the game that some players had played their way out of the team for the cup final.
The Villans’ manager must’ve been cursing his luck when he saw Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero left out of the starting side for the midweek clash against Real Madrid and both should start on Sunday, but some hope for Villa did arrive on Wednesday in the shape of Aymeric Laporte’s injury.
Losing the Frenchman is a huge blow for Pepe Guardiola and I believe they will need him to be fit to win the Champion’s League this year. While he’s not the same physical presence as Virgil Van Dijk is, he is nearly as influential in Man City’s defence.
In the seven matches Laporte started this season, City have gained five clean sheets as opposed to four clean sheets in the 20 league matches he has not started. While City should still win this match, Laporte’s absence will leave them more vulnerable at the back.
As the above statistics indicate, City should be more vulnerable in defence than usual and I would expect Villa to get on the scoresheet.
Villa are the most fouled team in the league and I’d expect the City holding midfielder to make a couple of cynical challenges on some of their counter-attacks, most likely against Jack Grealish. 7/2 looks a very fair price.
*All odds correct at time of publication