Aston Villa’s Carabao Cup showpiece against Manchester City could get ugly if they repeat their performance from dismal defeat to Southampton as Dean Smith warns of ’13 cup finals’
- Aston Villa cannot afford to continue their poor form in the Carabao Cup final
- Dean Smith was angry after a limp 2-0 Premier League defeat at Southampton
- Man City beat Villa 6-1 at Villa Park and are their Wembley opponents on Sunday
- Villa are just a point and a place above the drop zone and have lost three in a row
The joy Aston Villa felt at reaching Sunday’s Carabao Cup final could well be morphing into fear of humiliation after this morale-sapping defeat by Southampton.
Villa boss Dean Smith was furious and embarrassed about this capitulation. It was his side’s third loss in a row since they beat Leicester to reach Sunday’s Wembley showpiece against holders Manchester City.
That Villa’s defeat came against injury-hit Southampton — who have just four home league wins this term — is concerning enough. But it is the manner of defeat that will really sting.
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith was unimpressed by the 2-0 Premier League loss at Southampton
Villa know they will need to improve drastically in order to compete in the Carabao Cup final
Southampton overran Villa, who lacked heart and struggled with the basics. Saints were ahead inside 10 minutes and it could have been done and dusted by then. They went on to have a whopping 28 shots.
Villa did little to help themselves. A tendency to overplay at the back put them under pressure against a side who press relentlessly, while a disorganised defence — the worst in the division — relied on last-ditch lunges and poor finishing to keep the scoreline respectable.
Smith, who spent much of the game shaking his head, bemoaned too many ‘training ground players’. He and assistant John Terry have little time to implement a plan that might contain City.
‘I said to the players before the game that we’ve got 13 cup finals,’ Smith said. ‘We got deservedly beaten. I can’t change what’s happened. It’s what we do now to get them ready for the next game.’
It is tough to know where to start. Pepe Reina, 37, made some fine saves, thwarting Danny Ings, Moussa Djenepo, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Che Adams. But with the sublime came the ridiculous: calamitous clearances, frequent miscommunications and a comical misread of Hojbjerg’s long ball that led to a grapple with Shane Long outside the box, for which he escaped with a booking.
Struggling Villa were demolished 6-1 at home by cup final foes Manchester City on January 12
In front of the shaky Spaniard, Tyrone Mings had the air of a captain going down with his ship. Restored to the team after tonsillitis, he put his head where it hurts, making blocks and deflecting Will Smallbone’s shot on to a post. One man can only do so much. ‘We’ll figure it out behind closed doors,’ Mings said.
‘The last thing we need to do is fracture and lose faith in each other, so we’ll prepare for the final and it might be a welcome distraction from the league.’ Or it might be another dent in their already fragile confidence.
Villa fell behind after Ezri Konsa clocked off. The enjoyably unpredictable Djenepo refused to give up on a loose ball and crossed for Long, who beat Reina at his near post. Given all the talk about his strike partner Ings, Long is quietly enjoying a pleasing patch, scoring his third in six games here.
In midfield, the lightweight pairing of Douglas Luiz and Marvelous Nakamba were outwitted by Hojbjerg and Smallbone, a 20-year-old academy product making his Premier League debut. If they replicate that on Sunday, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva will have a field day.
MATCH FACTS AND TEAM LINEUPS
Southampton (4-2-2-2): McCarthy 6.5; Ward-Prowse 7, Stephens 7, Bednarek 6.5, Bertrand 6.5; Hojbjerg 6.5, Smallbone 6.5 (Romeu 80min); Armstrong 6.5, Djenepo 7.5; Ings 6.5 (Adams 73, 6.5), Long 6.5 (Obafemi 73, 6).
Subs not used: Gunn, Valery, Vestergaard, Boufal
Manager: Ralph Hasenhuttl 7.
Aston Villa (3-4-3): Reina 5; Hause 4.5, Mings 6.5, Konsa 4.5 (Hourihane 59, 6); Guilbert 4.5, Nakamba 5 (Baston 81), Luiz 5, Targett 5.5; El Ghazi 4.5 (Trezeguet 28, 6), Grealish 6.5, Samatta 6
Subs not used: Drinkwater, Nyland, Engels, Elmohamady. Booked: Konsa, Reina, Grealish, Guilbert
Manager: Dean Smith 5
Referee: Craig Pawson 6
Villa’s Mbwana Samatta had the ball in the net before half-time, but it was correctly ruled out for offside. That was pretty much it until a corner in the dying moments.
Sensing an undeserved leveller, Villa threw everyone forward. But after Alex McCarthy had punched clear, Adams found Stuart Armstrong with a superb cross-field ball. Reina (below) was stranded and the Scot kept calm to finish into an empty net.
Through it all, Villa fans were in good voice. ‘We’re going to Wem-ber-ley,’ they warbled. A trip to the national stadium is always memorable. But any fun may stop abruptly at 4.30pm when the sides lock horns on the pitch.
Six weeks ago, Manchester City won 6-1 at Villa Park. In six days, the teams meet again. Do not rule out a similar scoreline. Villa have lost their last four games with City in all competitions by an aggregate of 17-1, and were 4-0 down by half-time last month.
But win or lose on Sunday, Villa have 11 games to maintain their Premier League status. You sense that three of them — against Newcastle, Crystal Palace and West Ham — will be their real cup finals.
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