By Mark Danylczuk
Well, who saw that one coming?! The focus of my planned article has changed somewhat, as I didn’t expect to be writing from the viewpoint that City are in the ascendency going into the second leg. Simply put, what to do in the next leg is…more of the same please!
It’s a tricky one to debate whether we should aim to stick with what we have, or choose to twist and go at them. With Villa grabbing a potentially crucial away goal, I think we need to keep it conservative – possession football when given the opportunity, gamble for the set-pieces which are our trump card, and not over commit too many players at either end of the field. We just need the one away goal to even things out and – if it goes to extra time and penalties – I would be thinking 10 out of 10!
In terms of Villa’s approach, if they come out with the intent, purpose and attacking tactics displayed in the first half on Tuesday, we should be worried. Charles N’Zogbia and Gabriel Agbonlahor were having far too much possession on the left, and we need to make sure that Zavon Hines, or whoever is playing right midfield, helps Stephen Darby out in keeping them quiet. Similarly, we need to be tighter on Christian Benteke, as three good headed chances in the first half proved what a handful he is in the air. I would be happier with playing the deeper content tactics we did against Arsenal, if Villa come out with this attacking, gung ho approach, which I would fully expect them to do.
If we can keep it tight for the first half and not concede, I imagine Villa will switch to the desperation long ball tactics they used in the second half. Benteke was almost playing the Hanson role in picking the ball up and laying it off, and you wouldn’t be expecting these tactics from a Premiership side (except for Stoke, perhaps). If it comes to this and we get a grip of the midfield, as we did on Tuesday (Gary Jones needs another match winning performance), we should push for another to hopefully kill the game off.
Other than set pieces, pace is another element City should be exploiting. With Hines and Nahki Wells running the channels, City caused all sorts of trouble for the Villa defence. Kyel Reid and Blair Turgott provide further options which we could use, but I still think Will Atkinson should be used in partnership on the opposite wing to provide some much needed calmness, along with Jones in particular, in terms of possession football.
Central midfield is a battleground which City need to get to grips with in the second leg. Possession was given away cheaply in the middle of the park far too often, which invited pressure on the City goal. Bannan was effective in the anchoring midfield role for Villa and Gary Jones will very much need to cancel him out, and continue in leading City on with the rousing passion and quality that he possesses.
All in all, just much of the same really. The first goal could be very crucial indeed; if it’s City’s, then Villa need three to take it into extra time – which would be a tall order. If it’s Villa’s, and within the first 15 minutes or so, City will have a tough job against the backdrop of a raucous Villa Park atmosphere, if they are to produce another match winning performance – taking us to a piece of history at Wembley in this simply remarkable cup run.