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Villa vs. Liverpool: It’s Gerrard’s last Wembley appearance

Aston Villa and Liverpool contest the second FA Cup semi-final tomorrow at Wembley. It's gonna be Stevie G's last game there.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Let's get one thing out of the way now:

Aston Villa are winning tomorrow.

Cool? Cool.

Everyone in the media will be fetishizing over Sunday's match being a chance for Steven Gerrard to ensure his last match in a Liverpool kit will be at Wembley, in the FA Cup Final.

That would be a neat story, I guess.

But Tim Sherwood's Villa aren't having any of it.

Let's talk about another thing:

Liverpool may very well be Aston Villa's best opponent so far this year.

The two teams met back in September at Anfield. Aston Villa won.

They then met in January at Villa Park. And while Liverpool took home the spoils that day, Paul Lambert's team was in it until a stupid late goal secured the points for the visitors.

It's a team Villa match up pretty well with.

I won't get too much into the tactical analysis — Jack did a good job with it here — but I think there's a fair reason to expect Villa will squarely be in the match Sunday at Wembley.

And I'm not going to try and get too emotional here — I already did that a couple days ago — but it's probably unavoidable. There's a certain level to which it's impossible to separate emotion from rational thought in these situations and I'm just going to embrace it at this point.

But for the next 24 or 72 hours (dependent on the result), we're going to be able to put everything in the league on the back burner and concentrate on what this game is actually about:


I guess I've stolen the line from Spurs but whatever.

If Villa win tomorrow, they'll be 90 minutes from their first FA Cup win in 58 years.

For a club that was instrumental in the early days of the competition? It's ridiculous we've gone that long without winning it.

I've maintained one thing all along as this cup run progresses: I want an FA Cup win more than anything. More than survival, more than Christian Benteke staying around, more than I'd want Villa to bounce back up if they went down.

What's the point to football if we're not going to win anything?

I'm realistic enough to know Villa aren't winning the Premier League any time soon.

So this is the best we can get.

When we walk out on that famous Wembley pitch tomorrow at 3 p.m., we're right there in with a chance to win the world's greatest cup competition.

Two teams. 90 minutes. It's all in front of us.

I'm far from someone who considers himself a tactical genius but it'll be interesting to see the changes Tim Sherwood is forced to make from his lineup last time out.

I count three he'll have to make.

Carlos Sánchez is out via suspension, Ciaran Clark isn't fit, and it looks like Gabby Agbonlahor won't be either.

I don't know what he'll do.

There were rumblings he doesn't see Ashley Westwood as a part of the squad. I hope that isn't the case tomorrow but if it is, maybe look toward Jores Okore in the defensive midfield role if Sherwood wants to keep the 4-1-2-1-2?

Nathan Baker was on for Clark at White Hart Lane, so I wouldn't be shocked if he gets the nod over Jores Okore. Either would realistically be a solid choice.

Then there's Agbonlahor up top, perhaps the biggest decision Sherwood will have to make. If Villa's number 11 can't give it a go, I see two options for him: Start Andi Weimann alongside Christian Benteke or leave the Belgian as a sole striker up top, changing formation.

We'll see what he does and doesn't do.

I'm really excited Scott Sinclair is fit again.

Will Jack Grealish get another spot in the XI?

Regardless of what Sherwood does, I still think it comes down to one thing for Villa:

Christian Benteke.

Aston Villa are playing really well right now — for our standards, at least. But the cog driving this machine is our star striker. No two ways around it. If he tallies, Villa stand a good chance. If Liverpool keep him at bay? Villa don't.

As for the Reds, two of their key forwards — Daniel Sturridge (an actual key player) and Mario Balotelli (a guy who should be) — might miss out due to injury.

If they're to create good chances and win the match, it'll probably be from the feet of attacking midfielder Philippe Coutinho, who is a fantastic footballer. He's only got a quartet of goals and the same number of assists this season, but he's a much better player than that would indicate.

I'd expect to see that style Villa had against Spurs a week ago, where they blended attacking play with the counter well to produce a result.

But above all else?

I come back to that blind optimism.

Everyone wants the storybook ending of Steven Gerrard lifting the FA Cup and riding off into the sunset with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Tomorrow, we will ensure that doesn't happen.

Up. The. Villa.