We all probably thought the worst when the Covid outbreak left us without any first team players together with three leading U23’s out for the Cup tie with Liverpool.
The last time Villa fielded a team of debutants was in 1874 – our first ever competitive game – which probably shows how little the Cup matters to Villa this year given that we elected to play rather than requesting a postponement which we were fully entitled to do.
Liverpool turned out most of their first team despite Klopp’s constant whining about not being allowed five substitutes, fixture congestion and the need to protect the players. If, in fielding so many experienced players, Klopp was trying to rub Villa’s nose in the dirt then it spectacularly backfired on both counts.
And whilst on the subject, we’ve lately had to put up with fixture moaning from Mourino and Scott Parker. Parker making it known that he was less than thrilled in having to take our spot tonight against Spurs, conveniently forgetting they called off the original tie just two hours before kick off after a breach by some of their players – could they have put out a squad (the protocol I believe is a minimum of 14 players being available)? We’ll never know because no data was published unlike in other outbreaks which have led to postponements.
While all of us are having to make sacrifices in our daily lives, the grumbling about clubs having to move fixtures is pathetic and shows how self absorbed football has become. It’s unlikely that ‘elite football’ will be stopped, despite Allardyce’s plea to be released from his Baggies nightmare for two weeks – there are too many multi-million pound contracts involved – and the sooner clubs realise that this season is going to be like no other with fixture changes and congestion, the better. We don’t need to keep reading about it.
Enough of all that.
Villa fans must have been reaching for the record books and worrying about a record Cup defeat (8-1 against Blackburn Rovers over a century ago) when the teams were announced but those fear soon turned to joy as Villa not only withstood the Liverpool juggernaut but surprisingly went in 1-1 at half time. When Louie Barry broke clear and finished so calmly, after really good play from the back, Villa had already won the night and having that goal voted as the best goal of the FA Cup 3rd Round (31% of the vote by BBC viewers) was the deserved icing on the cake.
There were brilliant performances all over the pitch and although tiredness eventually overcame them, it took all of Liverpool’s ‘big guns’ to achieve the win.
Lamare Bogarde and Ben Chrisene have been rewarded with professional contracts. The seventeen year-olds are two of the most recent additions to the academy side and were signed to meet Purslow’s objective of filling the U23 side with highly talented teenagers’. Are these also an example of Lange’s influence starting to show? Will we at last to see real progress from the academy as players of any quality, Grealish excepted, have been few and far between?
All in all a Villa performance and the Barry goal that will live long in the memory.
I was going to write more about the United game but time passes and the outcome was boringly similar although Villa played well and were, in the end, unlucky not to secure a draw.
United were once again awarded a dubious penalty when Pogba, who had just finished instructing Luke Shaw to dive in the box, cleverly managed to trip himself up. Luiz may have been naïve in allowing himself to get suckered in but the real complaint is why didn’t Oliver go and look at the monitor? After all it was Oliver, in our game against Brighton, who went over to the monitor, having a warded a penalty to Villa for a foul on Trezeguet, deciding to overturn the decision. The award to United was no less marginal but, of course, at Old Trafford the award of a home penalty is not a novelty is it?
The lack of consistency when applying VAR protocol is destroying the game and needs to be addressed now.
So onto the invisible man or one Ross Barkley, who once again failed to materialize for the United game despite Smith continually reporting him being fit to play. Is this just about poor and thoughtless media briefing or something more concerning? Hamstring injuries, on average, keep a player out for six or so weeks so questions should be asked over the way this is being communicated to fans.
The real disappointment is that he has now been absent for more games than he has actually played and there is no doubt that when he plays he lifts the team to a higher level. His interplay with Grealish and his goal threat would, I believe, have made a real difference against United.
Everton next on Sunday, the outcome of which will depend on the after effects of Covid and the amount of preparation time the players have as, at present, Bodymoor Heath is still closed.