Perhaps not every Villa fan woke up this morning with their heart pounding in fear, but we’re all thinking about it. Many of us are writing about it, so I’ll try not to overlap. But this week represents a week from hell for anyone that has trouble sleeping on the nights before a match, as we’ve got three—three—to play in eight days. We have our league match against Burnley today, where we’re still fighting to find fourth. On Wednesday it’s the FA Cup replay against Crystal Palace, in which winning means we move on to the quarter-finals against either Reading or West Brom, both Championship sides. And then there’s next Sunday. Wem.be.ley. Against United. Battle for the Carling Cup trophy. Our first hardware since what, 1996? Does that Intertoto Cup count?
Considering that, up until the game against Manchester United just a couple weeks ago, MON kept trotting out more or less the same starting XI, in their same 4-4-2 formation, the idea that Villa need to play three matches in eight days justifies a bit of terror. Who do we rest? Where do we prioritize? Do we accept that we’re stuck with one of the three Europa league spots (which we’ve already earned anyway, given our Carling Cup final appearance, by virtue of secondary cup competition and the fact that United will almost certainly be in the Champions League, allowing us to move up and yes this is why Americans get confuzzled by English football*) and focus on winning the league cup? Do we decide that the final is sufficient and that we would rather move forward in the FA Cup, allowing a return to Wembley? Or do we shake off the cup pressures and focus on fourth place?
Given that our side is healthy again—we’ve got Gabby, Petrov, Heskey, Carew, and Warnock all back—we should be able to shuffle some feet around and make sure that a few players get rested. We meet Burnley today, and considering that they haven’t scored in nine hours away, maybe today is the day to let some of our less-than-regular players have their shining moments. Certainly we should bring in Delph again. I would rather let Guzan have this league start and rest Friedel for the cup matches, even if that seems the opposite of MON philosophy. Of course, this could be the time for Burnley’s away form to suddenly kick in, and Brad.02 could do that watch the balls fly into goal thing once more.
Obviously, if I had the magical solutions, I’d be the first woman manager of an English premier side. I have no clue how the players are feeling, or even who is capable of playing all three games. I know that clearly we’ve had 3 games in 8 days before, so we could theoretically use the same players in the same formation for all three. At this point, though, I’m hoping to keep our best ready for next Sunday. As much as I’d like to finish in the top four, I’m confident that the Villa are building toward that point. Our side is still young and I think we’ll keep its core together for a few years. For this season, I’d rather the excitement of a trophy (and, of course, the ability to wipe the smug grins off the faces of United fans).
Once again, I’ll be on a plane during today’s match, so I’ll be suffering in silence, wishing I had a charged mobile and the ability to find internet as soon as I touch down in Milan. Woe is me, the life of a weary traveler who only wants to watch her football club play a bloody match.
*disclaimer: As an American, I'm still not sure I'm right about this.