With their win over Hull City on Saturday, Aston Villa's final two games ceased to matter in any tangible way. Safety has been confirmed and final verdicts on the way the season played out-and how much blame for the disappointment should be apportioned to Paul Lambert-have been rendered. While it's true that finishing higher up the table brings some added prestige and a bit more prize money, it's ultimately not going to make much of a difference; Villa finished 9th in 2011, and many still count that season as having been a relegation battle and while an addition few million pounds will likely make Randy Lerner a bit happier, it's unlikely to have much impact on the club's off-season spending.
In an intangible way though, these games do still matter. Or can, at least. If Villa go to the Etihad and get stomped, it doesn't change anything. It's the expected outcome, especially with City having the chance to take a commanding lead in the title race and likely to come out guns-blazing. And with a point being largely worthless at this stage, the common incentive to get away with a draw is out the window. If Paul Lambert can do anything to help his chances of staying on as Villa manager at this point, it's to go into the Etihad, go after City, and come away with a win. Almost all decisions in football are made with a risk/reward calculation in mind, and with nearly all of the risk removed from the equation there's just no excuse not to go for it.
There's no sense hoping Villa come out in a 3-4-3 with Callum Robinson and Jack Grealish in the XI rather,Lambert should set up his team to play as he would like them to play were they the heavy favorites, and for the players to play as though the same were true. Get forward, try things they wouldn't normally try, and play without fear. Like it or not, that's not an especially smart thing to do when points are still vital, but it's the perfect thing to do right now. Could it backfire? Yes! It probably will! Because Manchester City are really, really good while Aston Villa are not. Thing is, Villa could play as though you'd expect them to play were this game in January, and the odds are they're still going to be beaten rather soundly.
To his credit, Lambert is saying all of the right things along the above lines ahead of this game, and there's a good chance he's being sincere. Of course, Alex McLeish also talked about loving attacking football and wanting his teams to play it quite often. But there's a good chance that Lambert actually knows what attacking football is, whereas there's a decent chance that isn't the case with Big Eck. But if Paul Lambert has any hope of trying to win back the supporters before next year, it's by going and doing things that would be pretty reckless at any other point in the season. Is that rational? Of course not! But then again, neither is pretty much anything about sports.