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xV: Can Villa follow their semi-final blueprint and shock Manchester City in the League Cup final?

The way to hang with Manchester City looks an awful lot like how Villa won the two legs against Leicester City. That should give Villa fans hope as the Claret and Blues head toward Wembley.

Aston Villa v Leicester City - Carabao Cup: Semi Final
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 28: Jack Grealish of Aston Villa during the Carabao Cup Semi Final match between Aston Villa and Leicester City at Villa Park on January 28, 2020 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a column that focuses on the numbers behind Aston Villa! This week, all eyes are on the League Cup final, and we take a look at how Villa can shock Manchester City and win their first major trophy in 24 years.

No, you don’t have to pick between winning the League Cup and Villa’s survival

I’m going to lead with this, because I really, really hate this false choice debate that’s gone around over the last couple months, because it’s not rooted in reality. You don’t have to choose between wanting Aston Villa to win a first major trophy in 24 years or to secure Premier League survival, because both can absolutely happen. Hell, to the extent there’s any remaining relationship between the two, it’s likely a positively correlated one, not a negative one! Unlike at previous stages of the cup, there’s no more fixture congestion introduced this season if Villa win, and if Villa do find a way to win Sunday, perhaps it gives them enough momentum to get over the line in the survival race.

Hey, speaking of which:

How can Villa beat Manchester City on Sunday?

Soak up pressure. Look to counterattack with a purpose. Pray, if that’s your thing.

For everything that’s been made of City’s struggles this season, just three teams in and around Villa’s calibre have gotten a result off them in the league: Norwich beat City 3-2 early in the season, and both Newcastle and Crystal Palace have gotten 2-2 draws off Pep Guardiola’s side. Every other point they’ve dropped has been to a team playing in Europe this season.

If there’s one thing those three matches I’ve picked out have in common, it’s that the post-match stats would seem to indicate a City win. Norwich had just 31% of the ball in their win, Newcastle saw 24% in their draw, and Palace just 27% in theirs. Combined, over those three matches, Manchester City out-shot their opponents 74-18.

The important thing, though: When they had chances to attack, each of Norwich, Newcastle and Palace took their chances.

Villa fans should have no expectation of going down to Wembley and being “in the game.” Villa’s 9-1 aggregate scoreline against City this season should tell you that well enough, but the fact is, nobody from the bottom half is likely to “take it” to a Guardiola side any time soon. Remember, for context: Norwich got a lot of credit and praise for playing their normal attacking style in a win where they only saw 31% of the ball, and were out-shot 25-7.

In truth, the blueprint for how Villa lift this trophy is the same one they followed to get to Wembley. Against Leicester, Villa had just 30% of the ball in the first leg and 38% in the second, and between the two legs, Dean Smith’s men were out-shot 43-12. But when they broke, it mattered; to make the most of Villa’s few attacks, Jack Grealish must repeat his semi-final performance.

It may be unlikely, and it may not be pretty, but we’ve seen it’s possible.