Aston Villa’s Champions’ League ambitions were bolstered, Sunday, when Everton knocked them out of the FA Cup at Goodison Park. Leading fifth-place Arsenal by seven points with 13 Premier League rounds to play, the last thing Villa needed was an additional competition to extend an already threadbare squad. Had they defeated Everton, they would have added an eighth match to an already jam-packed three-week period.
That said, it’s never nice to be eliminated from anything, no matter the competition. But given that Sunday’s substitutes included Shane Lowry, Nathan Delfouneso, Moustapha Salifou and Marc Albrighton, Martin O’Neill won’t be losing any sleep over the Wembley trip that might have been.
Add Istanbul to that list. Sure, winning the UEFA Cup would be a feather in the cap—and make up for the one that got away on O’Neill in 2003—but it’s a luxury the club can ill afford. With a home-and-away series against CSKA Moscow in the mix, Villa have five matches in the next 14 days. After that stretch, they’ll play four crucial games against Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Manchester United and Everton.
With injuries and suspensions already taking their toll on his squad, O’Neill knows a further UEFA Cup tie would put the club in serious jeopardy of losing ground to Arsenal. Nevertheless, he’s not about to sabotage Villa’s European campaign. But when it comes to rotating players in and out of the side, his focus will obviously be on the Premier League. If they can beat CSKA Moscow under those circumstances, terrific. If not, it’s just as well.
Owner Randy Lerner’s long-term project is to permanently disrupt the so-called ‘big four.’ He’s almost done it, and he didn’t get there by being distracted by the spectre of momentary glory. In other words, sacrificing a Champions’ League berth for a shot at Europe’s second-most prestigious club competition is not part of the plan. Villa fans should be grateful for that.
||Post your comment