Aston Villa v Liverpool Preview: One step away
Villa fans will be making the trip to Wembley with renewed optimism after a surprising 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur last time out. There is, however, an element of Jekyll and Hyde with the Midlands club – which side will show up? – the one that battered Sunderland 4-0 or the defensive shambles that drew 3-3 at home with QPR.
Meanwhile, in the red and white corner, Brendan Rodgers will be desperate to book a place in the final and win his first trophy as Liverpool manager. Hopes of a fourth placed finish look remote, unless the wheels really fall off of Manchester City, so Liverpool look set to put all of their eggs in the FA Cup basket. The Reds are favourites to progress but can they justify our faith?
Christian Benteke is obviously the danger man for Villa and will be giving the Liverpool back line sleepless nights in the buildup to kick off. The powerful Belgian striker has scored seven of the last nine Villa goals and is reaping the rewards of Tim Sherwood’s faith and style of management.
It’s very much a close parallel to the situation between Sherwood and Adebayor at Spurs. It looks like an arm around the shoulder and a few choice words appears to have woken up Benteke just at the right time.
Raheem Sterling has, once again, been dominating the headlines after his indiscretion with a shisha pipe during the week. While his contract saga also looks set to rumble on.
However, the key man for Liverpool this weekend could well be Philippe Coutinho. When the Brazilian midfielder is on song, so are Liverpool. As well as possessing an eye for the perfect pass, Coutinho is beginning to score plenty of goals – very important goals too. The 22 year-old midfielder settled the quarterfinal tie against Blackburn with a clinical strike and could be the difference once again.
Liverpool are sweating on the fitness of Daniel Sturridge who sat out the 2-0 win over Newcastle on Monday evening. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Sturridge who has scored just four league goals in a season that has been blighted with injuries – while Jordan Ibe is cup tied for the Villa showdown.
However, Liverpool welcome back Martin Skrtel and Steven Gerrard from suspension, although the Liverpool number 8 will likely start from the bench. And that’s probably a good thing as Villa found plenty of success by isolating Gerrard in the league meeting earlier this season.
Meanwhile, Tim Sherwood had the luxury of playing an unchanged side at Spurs last weekend and has no fresh injury concerns against Liverpool. The only absence will be Carlos Sanchez who was sent off for two bookable offences at White Hart Lane.
Otherwise, you would expect Benteke to start up front with Agbonlahor and Grealish in support. While their defensive line up of Richardson, Vlaar, Clark and Bacuna picks itself.
Villa will hold no fear given their recent performances against Liverpool but the Merseyside club must have the edge given the Wembley dimensions. The large playing surface is tailor-made for the pace and power of Sterling and Sturridge and Rodgers must make the most of this if they are to reach the final.
Nevertheless, Sherwood knows that Villa can concentrate on this tie without the pressure of the relegation battle looming. And this makes them a dangerous animal and perhaps a better chance than the 5/1 on offer for a Villa win in 90 minutes.
You would expect a few goals to be shared between the two sides but Liverpool have the weapons to outscore their Midlands rivals and can seal a narrow 2-1 victory.