We have a break from league football this week but the FA Cup is back with Aston Villa reserves v Liverpool on Friday night. I would like Villa to progress in the FA Cup as I would love to see Villa win some silverware. However, I believe the league is more important and our entire focus should be on the Premier League. If we manage to get within shouting distance of the FA Cup final, I may change my view. For now though, the focus must be on the league.
So what does that mean for our team selection against Liverpool? Well, it means we should select a team that gives us the most benefit for the league. This does not mean resting players to avoid a potential injury. I don’t really subscribe to that idea. After all, players can get injured in every game we play and we just need to manage that risk. It’s not rocket science what Smith needs to do. Simply look at the elite teams and how they manage their team selections between the different competitions.
Villa’s Fringe Players Game Time
This is a really important part of managing a football team. The lack of this at Villa is also a weakness Smith appears to have. To compete in the cups, the Premier League and in Europe we need a manager that can rotate our players. There are simply too many games to play without proper player rotation. Rotation of players servers three main purposes. Firstly, it makes Villa better equipped to handle injuries and suspensions. Secondly, it gives our first team players a rest. Thirdly, it helps to promote youth players into the senior squad.
In December Villa had injuries to Barkley and Trezeguet. Traore and El Ghazi came in and were brilliant. We had games without one of either Konsa or Mings, Hause came in and was brilliant. We were fortunate that our players came in and were up for it. To remove the fortune factor we need these players to be playing more regularly. We also need to have a mechanism to bring our youth players into the senior squad.
Kids have proven that at 17 or 18 years old they are good enough for the Premier League. Age is not the deciding factor and nor should it be. Wayne Rooney & Mason Greenwood and many others prove that. We have bags of talent in our youth setup and these players need to be getting a look in. We can now put 9 players on the bench and they don’t all have to be defenders. Surely putting Louie Barry on the bench would give the kid a real boost and valuable experience? We don’t have to actually play him but would our bench be any weaker if he occupied a spot on it?
Being able to promote and integrate youth players into the senior squad is also a key part of Purslow’s strategy. It will increase the value of these players while negating the future need to fill every position in the team via the transfer market. Surely against Liverpool in the FA Cup, it is the perfect time to be integrating these players.
Villa Players Need A Rest
I love the never say die attitude that I see from our players. Smith deserves a lot of brownie points for instilling this. But fcuk me! Some of our players are starting to look absolutely knackered in the final quarter of games. Towards the latter stages against Man Utd, I thought Grealish and Traore looked knackered. If we want to win games our players cannot be like that. An argument has been that Smith didn’t have the quality on the bench to be able to rotate. December proved that is not the case. Injuries forced rotation and it worked a treat.
I am a huge fan of Smith. I was very happy with his appointment as our head coach to replace Bruce. Further, I was 100% behind sticking with him last season as I believed he would guide us to safety. It was very clear Smith was the right man for Villa. It was even more clear that Big Sam was the wrong man for Villa last January. But now with two Premier League seasons under his belt, Smith needs to up the ante with this aspect of his management. He has done really well improving us form a playing perspective. Our game management and tactics have improved too. Hopefully, Dean Smith can improve on his weaknesses as this season progresses. There are no free passes nor room for sentiment in managing a Premier League football club. Continuous improvement is a requirement each and every season.
I think Jurgen Klopp has some difficult decisions to make with his team selection. This should have been a fairly straightforward team sheet for him. However, Liverpool is ravaged by injuries at the back and they are starting to shoot blanks upfront. Their last 3 games against The Baggies, Toon and Southampton have yielded a paltry 2 points. This is very unlike the Liverpool we have become accustomed to.
Will Klopp see this as an opportunity for his players to find their scoring boots again? Or maybe Klopp will see this as a chance to give the 1st 11 a complete rest away from football for a couple of weeks? I really do not know what to expect. However, I am fairly sure whatever team Liverpool put out will prove formidable opposition. I don’t expect anything like our 7-2 win earlier this season or the 5-0 last season.
Formation Against Liverpool
It would be nice to see Villa try a different formation, maybe a JCV 4-4-2 or 3-5-2. But that should start at Bodymoor first and not in a competitive game. I think it is important that we play in our regular 4-3-3. The fringe players need to be comfortable with this formation. We need to have players ready to slot in if any of our first teamers get injuries or suspensions.
Aston Villa Reserves
Picking the Aston Villa team should be a fairly straightforward exercise for Dean Smith. I think the first name on the teamsheet must be that of Tom Heaton. He is back from injury and on the bench for our league team. Competitive game time is exactly what he needs. Guilbert, Engels, Hause and Taylor should make up our back four. Midfield should bring Nakamba and Ramsey into the starting lineup. If they have recovered from injury we should see Trezeguet and Barkley get some minutes, maybe as substitutes.
I think Davis starting upfront is another easy decision for Smith to make. But it gets a little more difficult after that. I believe this is where we need to blood the youngsters into the team. Louie Barry should make his debut for the Villa senior team occupying Jack’s role on the left. He is the natural successor to Jack at the club and the sooner he becomes his understudy the better. I would like to see Jack under pressure to keep his place in the team and Louie is the man to do this. On the right-wing, I would give Jaden Philogene-Bidace a start. He has played 10 games for the u23s. He started 7 of these games and has 5 goals and two assists.
This is the team I would pick to play Liverpool if I was Dean Smith. I don’t expect Dean to take my advice but that is probably just down to him not reading this blog. I am sure he would see the light if he saw my team.
What the Bookies Say
The bookies have Liverpool as clear favourites to win, however, they are still odds against at 11/10. A home win for the Villa reserves is a reasonably generous 5/2. And a draw is offered at 31/10.