It was a thoroughly deserved, completely amazing team effort from Aston Villa on Sunday at Wembley Stadium as the players wearing claret and blue did just as the team's new marketing slogan suggests -- they fought like lions.
Villa beat Liverpool 2-1 to set up an FA Cup Final meeting with Arsenal at the end of May, and the players will rightly be heralded for their performances. But a special mention also must go out to Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood, who -- despite making two questionable late substitutions -- set up his team in such a manner that they made Liverpool look like the underdogs for much of Sunday's match as Villa dictated play and created the better chances.
Based on a scale from 1 to 10 -- with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best -- here are the match ratings and analysis for Aston Villa's players from Sunday's win at Wembley:
GK: Shay Given, Rating: 6
Pretty quiet day for Given. Maybe could've saved Coutinho's goal, but it took a wicked deflection off Okore, so that's being a bit harsh. Confident with his catching on crosses, but Villa were a bit disorganized at defending corners, something he could take blame for. Thought his kicking was better than Guzan's usually is. Probably finished the match surprised at the lack of saves he was forced to make.
RB: Leandro Bacuna, Rating: 6
Decent game for Bacuna. Had a hilarious moment just before halftime where he chased the ball across the entire pitch and ended up switching positions with Delph for a minute; that moment showed he can be a bit reckless with his positioning, but his pace often makes up for it. When it mattered most, he managed to just clear the ball and defend well enough to put Liverpool off. Plus his chemistry with Benteke is something else at times, although he missed a chance to put the striker through on goal late.
CB: Ron Vlaar, Rating: 8
A second straight rock solid performance from Vlaar, who dealt well with having to move to left center back early on. Showed his paced, winning a key early foot race with Raheem Sterling. His reading of the game is so impressive at times, and his clearances were very assured on Sunday. When Vlaar is playing like this, it makes Villa a much more stable unit.
CB: Nathan Baker, Rating: 6
Is there a curse that Aston Villa can't have both central defenders make it through any important game healthy? Did his knee on 23 minutes after making a fine start. Likely won't be back until next season.
LB: Kieran Richardson, Rating: 5
Still not very good, but made himself a bit of a hero with a late clearance off the line on what would've been an equalizing goal by Steven Gerrard. Continues to benefit from having Delph play beside him. Plagued by misplaced passes and moments of hesitation. Missed a good chance to make it 3-1. Doesn't do anything that well, but you can't fault his fitness and he coped with Liverpool's attackers for the most part on Sunday.
CDM: Ashley Westwood, Rating: 6
Was caught flat-footed when he could've tackled Coutinho before the goal, but overall he made a positive impact on the game with a steady performance. Interesting situation with Westwood after reports surfaced during the week that he isn't part of Sherwood's plans going forward, but he started in this match and did well. Definitely a more consistent and reliable option in the defensive midfield role than Carlos Sanchez at the moment. A player worth having.
CM: Tom Cleverley, Rating: 8
Tackling machine on Sunday, making seven -- three more than any other player on the pitch. His ability to win the ball back and get it moving forward makes him such an asset in Tim Sherwood's high-pressing Aston Villa squad. Hard to pinpoint moments where he stood out because his best work is with closing down, making overlapping runs for Bacuna, etc. Sometimes, like in this match, he's at his best when you don't notice him.
CM: Fabian Delph, Rating: 9
Worthy match winner. Started quietly, but after he was slightly at fault for the concession of Liverpool's goal, the Aston Villa captain exploded into life and became the best player on the pitch. Made a brilliant, determined run and played the pass to set up Benteke's equalizer. And his first touch and finish for the match-winning goal was classic, silky smooth Delph. Continued his high energy levels until the final whistle.
LW: Jack Grealish, Rating: 9
It took two minutes on Sunday for Grealish to get on the ball, dribble around a Liverpool defender, and draw a foul. It was this type of fearless, positive attitude that resulted in Grealish, previously unknown to many followers of English football, leaving Sunday's match as a much-hyped teenage sensation. His assist to Delph for the winner was exquisite, and he was integral in the first goal as well. If he continues to improve at the rate he has during the past month under Sherwood, the sky is the limit for Jack.
RW: Charles N'Zogbia, Rating: 7
Great job finding the pockets created by the movement of Benteke and Grealish. Had a strike tipped over after 11 minutes. Was a key cog in Sherwood's attacking mentality that Villa followed through with, but ran out of steam in the second half. Probably should've had an assist or two, but his final pass let him down. Had opportunities to create chances with a final pass on 15 minutes and 58 minutes -- but failed each time.
ST: Christian Benteke, Rating: 8
In the opening stages of the match, I had no idea why Benteke was drifting so wide. It seemed strange, but it soon became clear that by physically dominating Emre Can and Martin Skrtel, along with his drifting positioning, Benteke was what created so much space for Grealish and N'Zogbia. When the Belgian moved central, he scored the equalizer with a true striker's goal. Almost scored a similar goal in the second half but it was deflected. Another brilliant performance from the Belgian.
CB: Jores Okore, Rating: 6
Struggled to settle after an unexpected early appearance in place of Baker, failing to clear his lines and unfortunately deflecting the ball into his own net to give Liverpool the lead. But he immediately helped hold off the Liverpool momentum after the Reds briefly looked likely to get a second, then improved gradually from there.
RW: Scott Sinclair, Rating: 5
Came on and couldn't get on the ball much as Liverpool pressed in the final 15 minutes. Good hustling to pressure the Reds. Stuck to his position well.
LW: Joe Cole, Rating: 5
(See analysis of Scott Sinclair's shift).
The Villa Fans, Rating: 10
What a day for Aston Villa Football Club and its supporters. Even when Villa went behind, there were audible chants of "Villa, Villa, Villa!" cascading from the claret and blue end of Wembley, urging the team to get back into the game, which of course they did so amazingly. The noise created throughout the match and the party atmosphere from the Villa fans at the final whistle is something I'll never forget, and I hope I can find a way to be part of it for the Final.