Another FA Cup adventure begins today with a third round tie at Villa Park against League One side Sheffield United. In spite of the miniature firestorm that ensued following Paul Lambert's candor regarding the importance of the competition, this is a game Villa should expect to win. What's more, they should expect to win it while giving some of their regulars a rest and some of their youngsters a chance at first-team minutes. No matter your take on Lambert's comments, given the current mood it's pretty reasonable to say that this isn't really a game Villa can afford to drop.
The Blades currently sit 18th in the table, but their form has been pretty decent in recent times; their 2-1 loss to Walsall on New Year's Day was their first loss since November 16th, an unbeaten run of 8 games. It was a disastrous start that has United so low in the League One table, which lead to David Weir being replaced by Nigel Clough and a near immediate improvement in results.
United's joint-leading scorer is center back Harry Maguire, and though it's likely unfair to base the entirety of your expectations about the way the Blades go about things based on that fact alone it's at the very least somewhat illustrative. It's not especially difficult to envision Villa being undone by a set piece, nor is it difficult to see them dominating the run of play but failing to put the ball in the net. Clearly, Villa have a significant edge in talent, and they're capable of putting a pretty serious hurting on the Blades. But they have the kind of shortcomings that can lead to disaster in games such as these.
Under different circumstances, that probably wouldn't be the biggest deal. The odds are extremely high that Villa will be bounced from the FA Cup well before tickets to Wembley are printed, and though losing to a lower-league side isn't ever pleasant, it is not in-and-of itself a major disaster. But given Villa's recent league form and the generally sour mood of Villa supporters at the moment, a loss at home to Sheffield United right on the heels of Lambert's comments regarding the relative importance of the FA Cup could potentially bring about WWIII. That's really not what this team needs right now, especially with a rough set of games ahead. A win is the absolute minimum bar; for the sake of all involved (well, aside from the Blades) a nice, confidence-boosting romp seems like just the ticket.