It could not have been written for a play. Aston Villa, winners of the inaugural Football League Cup, meets the current holders Manchester United at Wembley this Sunday to celebrate 50 years of the competition. It is Villas first Wembley appearance since losing to Chelsea in the last F.A. Cup Final to be held at the old stadium in 2000, whereas Manchester United have graced many domestic and European finals in the last decade.
From 1982, when it was first sponsored by the Milk Marketing Board, the League Cup has been known by many names during its existence. Littlewoods, Rumbelows, Coca Cola, Worthingtons and now Carling have put their name to the competition. The cup was first introduced as a mid-week evening cup in the1960-61 season when clubs first utilised floodlights.
It is Aston Villa who has the better League Cup record – five times winners, a record only bettered by Liverpool – and United hold the unenviable record of being four times losers from seven appearances in the final. Villa also has the better head-to-head record in this competition. The two teams having met six times previously with Villa winning four (including a 3-1 victory in the final in 1994) with one draw; the one victory to United was 35 years ago!
Incredibly this is the third successive time that the club who is the Carling Cup holder has reached the final and in the last two finals those teams have both lost. In 2007 Chelsea beat Arsenal but lost to Spurs in 2008. Spurs reached Wembley again in 2009 to be beaten by Manchester United. Will that pattern be continued this year?
Sir Alex Ferguson rested several key players on Tuesday against West Ham. Despite often stating that the Carling Cup is not his highest priority it would appear that he is taking this game very seriously. They will be missing the enigmatic Nani through suspension (ironically red carded at Villa Park in the league) and it is likely that Antonio Valencia will take his place.
Martin O´Neill – who has cup winner’s medals from his days playing for Nottingham Forest in 1978 and 1979 – has had a full week to prepare for this match and although his focus will still be on the fourth place in the Premiership it will be buoyed by his teams 5-2 victory over Burnley last weekend. Villa defender, Stephen Warnock, has been allowed extra time to recover from a shin injury in order to be able to make the final line-up.
Form students will point to the fact that in a 5 year period Manchester United holds a far superior record in all meetings between the two teams (W7 D2 L1) but Aston Villas defense has been far more solid this season and their counter-attacking style of play should make this an entertaining game to watch. We are not predicting a goal-fest however suggesting that the full-time score will be 1-1 (generally available at 6/1) with a covering bet on Aston Villa to win the cup outright at 7/4.
What a fantastic story that would be for all Aston Villa supporters and the League Cup in particular.