Aston Villa have been drawn to face Leicester City in the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.
The Foxes are flying high in the Premier League and hammered a hapless Villa outfit only a few weeks ago at Villa Park to the tune of a 4-1 scoreline. However, the League Cup offers a totally different ballgame as the semi-finals take place over two legs.
Villa will travel to the King Power Stadium on the 6th of January, 2020 with the aim of keeping the game tight and the scores close, which would set up a blockbuster second leg at a packed Villa Park under the lights on the 27th of January, 2020.
First of all though, Dean Smith’s team will have to overcome a huge run of fixtures over the festive period which are crucial to the club’s top-flight status. Hopefully, the results come against the lesser sides of the Premier League which will give the team confidence heading into the first leg.
Keeping the damage to a minimum in that match will be pivotal to Villa’s chances of progressing to the final of the competition for the first time in 10 years. Conceding ‘soft’ goals from crosses has haunted Smith’s side in recent weeks, and Leicester took full advantage a few weeks ago when Jonny Evans rose to meet a corner and put the game beyond doubt with his headed goal.
This is where Villa have to “outfox” the Foxes. The silly mistakes have to be cut out and concentration levels must be sky-high. Frustrate them in the early exchanges and keep the tie alive heading into the second leg.
Under Dean Smith, Villa play good football on the front foot but at times it appears the relatively inexperienced squad lacks the “street smarts” in tough away matches (the team have only picked up a mere 4 points on the road so far this season). Playing on the counter may suit the team in this clash as the Foxes have proven they are capable of hitting on the break.
The games will also offers several selection headaches for Dean Smith – does he stick with the squad players that have picked up the wins in the Cup or opt for the first team players in a bid to win silverware? Or would a mixture of both be a better choice in these games?
Tom Heaton has been tremendous between the sticks in his first season at the club and offers much-needed experience, however, Orjan Nyland has shown clear signs of improvement in the limited game time he has received. The Norwegian international made numerous top saves in the 5-0 quarter-final win over Liverpool and he will want to keep playing in order to further his international career.
In Dean Smith’s favoured 4-3-3 formation, the role of the holding midfielder is critical. Douglas Luiz, Marvelous Nakamba and Conor Hourihane have all played there this season. However, Luiz ’should’ be away on international duty and will miss several matches for Villa over this period, meaning Nakamba has to start.
This should be a good thing for the away leg as the Zimbabwean has great awareness and provides solid cover for the backline with his ability to win possession. As a result, Hourihane will play higher up the pitch which benefits the team as he offers a goal-scoring threat most times he plays.
These are just two areas that Smith has to ponder before the first leg. Hopefully, by the second leg, he will have added some new faces to the squad.
The fact that many were hoping for one of the Manchester clubs instead of Leicester City in the semi-finals demonstrates how much the times have changed. The Foxes are high on confidence and do not have a European competition as a ‘distraction’.
However, from a Villa perspective, it offers a great opportunity to try and win a trophy in our first season back in the top flight and boost confidence levels ahead of a possible relegation battle. For long-suffering fans, it is also a chance to right the wrongs of the last time the club qualified for the semi-finals of the competition – in 2013 when Paul Lambert’s side was humiliated by lower league Bradford City over two legs.