By Dean Gregory
Crewe vs Aston Villa
Fresh off their first win back in the Premier League, Villa travel to Crewe for the second round of the League Cup. Crewe enter this game after losing 3-0 to Newport County, conceding their position atop League 2 in the process.
This will be only the 5th match the teams have contested, all of which have been either FA Cup or League Cup matches. The record currently stands at 3-1-0 to Villa.
Will Villa be able to gather momentum to carry into the Palace game this weekend, or will the League Cup once again prove to be a thorn in their side?
Dean Smith on Everton win
“It’s not perfect because they’ve had a couple of good chances but it’s as good as it gets under the lights here, a full house at Villa Park, the oldest fixture in the league. To beat Everton is very, very pleasing.
“It was a tough game because they’re a tough team. They started brighter and it looked like it could be a long night. The goal galvanised the whole stadium. There was an awful lot of belief in the players after that.”
“It was about getting three points. I’ve said before, there were two teams who finished above us in the Championship last year and they’re the new boys in the Premier League whereas we finished below them and we seem to be more of an established Premier League team.
I can see that because of the amount of money we’ve spent thanks to the owners we’ve got. We feel we’ve spent that well but it’s going to take time to go and compete with a lot of the established team in this league.”
Crewe’s David Artell on his team’s mentality
“We shouldn’t be defined by who we come up against or who’s in the opposition technical area or who the manager is. We should be defined by what we do, how we are, how we go about out business because everything else takes care of itself.
“It’s a good headache to have and I don’t mind players being disappointed not playing, I think that’s a good thing and a good sign. The last thing I want is a squad full of players who don’t really want to play or aren’t bothered.
“We’re not going to get anywhere with that attitude and whether it’s Aston Villa or Bradford or Burton or Grimsby, I want them all to play and tomorrow night’s no different.
“Yes, the opportunity to play against a Premier League team doesn’t come around that often, but it’s an opportunity for some and others will have to accept that they’re not going to play. Whoever plays, it’s an opportunity for them to stake their claim.”
Crewe – L W W W L
Villa – L L W
Crewe Alexandra 2-3 Aston Villa – 07 January 1989, FA Cup 3rd Round
David Platt provided the winning goal against the club he made his professional debut with, in what was only the 4th ever meeting between these two clubs. The other two goals came from Kevin Gage and Alan McInally.
In league matches, Crewe manager David Artell sets his team up in an expansive 4-3-3 formation with an advanced midfield, looking to play attractive possession based football. They have seen the most of the ball in all five League 2 matches so far this season, including 63% possession in their 3-0 loss to Newport County.
They can be dangerous when on the back foot too – against Middlesbrough, they managed two goals in the space of four minutes despite only recording 37% possession in that match. While Middlesbrough did manage to utilise their dominance to draw the match 2-2 in the end, Crewe’s ability with the ball on the ground allowed them to cause major problems. They managed 11 shots in total compared to Boro’s 15, demonstrating their capabilities on the counter.
In the Middlesbrough match, Crewe set up in a more compact 4-4-2 formation with tricky winger Charlie Kirk dropping into midfield. This was perhaps a pragmatic move by Artell, expecting Boro to keep the ball for large spells of the game and seeing a need to absorb pressure. They did this admirably making 14 tackles and 16 clearances, only conceding 4 fouls in the process; however they were generally wasteful with the ball when they had it, recording only 69% pass completion, and only 3 of their 11 crosses finding one of their own players.
Villa can expect them to repeat this tactic in Tuesday’s tie; Smith will know they are not to be underestimated, but will take note of how Crewe eventually succumbed to relentless Boro pressure, conceding the equaliser in the 91st minute.
One to Watch
Charlie Kirk scored against Boro following a clever run across the width of the pitch. He also showed his skill with the ball at his feet against them on numerous occasions, and was a big factor in Crewe managing to push them all the way. If Villa are not careful, he could cause them a similar headache.
How it could play out
Crewe fielded a near full-strength side in the previous round, only making changes to help cope with Middlesbrough being a far superior side technically. They will likely do the same again.
Villa, meanwhile, will almost certainly play their second string in order to rest key players for the tough Premier League season ahead.
Kortney Hause and Ezri Konsa stand a good chance of starting this match. With Konsa potentially making his competitive debut, one big question this match could throw up will be how capable they are as backups to Mings and Engels.
Another possible debutant is Marvelous Nakamba; Dean Smith could likely see this as a good opportunity for him to improve his match fitness, so will he start, or could he be a late substitution? If he does feature, we will finally be able to see what sort of a player he is, and how weary Luiz should be about losing his place.
This could also be a big opportunity for Davis – he will likely play, and if he manages to get on the scoresheet, it could prove to be a catalyst for his development.
With only three genuine senior wingers at Smith’s disposal, a 4-3-3 formation in this match guarantees at least one first team player on the pitch, unless he decides to dip into the youth squad and award a chance to one or two of those.
Assuming he doesn’t however, this tie is one where Jota’s silky smooth skills and ability to control the tempo of a match would really shine. Villa will expect to dominate possession, so a pacey winger like Trezeguet is unlikely to make an appearance – and seeing as how his overall fitness levels have so far looked below Premier League standards, cramming too many games into his schedule won’t help anyone.
Henri Lansbury and Conor Hourihane should feature too.
Ultimately, the team Smith puts out will show how serious he is about a cup run. Will he have a genuine crack at silverware this season, or is survival in the league too big a commitment?
If he does want to do well, he should beware that playing too many players who have no competitive experience together could gift the game to Crewe. Villa knows all too well the cost of underestimating lower league teams, and Crewe will be relishing the opportunity to claim a big scalp.
Crewe 1-2 Villa. On paper, even Villa’s fringe players should be far too much for Crewe. However, Villa are Villa, so the chances of them Villa-ing this up is always on the cards.