For those of you who haven't ventured far outside of the cozy little hollow of Cartilage Free into the vast untamed wilderness that is the rest of SBNation, it is my pleasure to inform you that the network features an excellent Aston Villa blog in 7500 To Holte, which you should most certainly add to your collection of general Premier League bookmarks if, like me, you're obsessive enough to keep such a list. Ahead of Tottenham's impending League Cup (no, I'm not going to bother with it's commercial name) tie against Paul Lambert's side, I caught up with 7500 writer Jack Grimse to chat tactics, yoof and a range of other Big Topics.
EF: We're a little way into the season already, so obviously Premier League fans have been able to develop a bit of an understanding of how their teams will set out this season and what different players can do for them. What are you liking and not liking about Villa so far, in terms of individual performances, tactics, team strengths, team weaknesses?
JG: So far with Villa the continued theme of youth in the team is awesome. It is really the bright spot of the club and the youth academy continues to be promising as well. Benteke continues to be the centerpiece, but Fabian Delph really has emerged and hopefully has turned the corner in his career. Agbonlahor has put in good performances as well, and hopefully will be a consistent performer throughout the season. And of course Brad Guzan is a rock at the back of a defense learning to play as a unit. Tactically we have had good attacking intent again, though ideally it would be nice to have a bit more possession, at least at home. A team weakness would probably be depth at the back, if not throughout, as I believe that 8 players are out for this cup match.
EF: What is your favourite-ever memory from this tie in the past?
JG: I have only been a Villa (and football) fan for about 4 years, so there are not really too many fond memories of this fixture for me anyways. Actually I don't think I've seen Villa beat Spurs. I definitely have a few least favo(u)rite though. Last Boxing Day I was watching the match while having Christmas with our relatives and it got so bad that I had to turn it off, and also the match where McLeish played 6 defenders.
EF: Villa clearly enter this tie with a couple of injury woes to work around. How would you like to see this side set up against Spurs with that in mind?
JG: Lambert has said that he prioritizes the league over the cup (well this cup anyways) so I think he will rest anyone who isn't completely ready to go for this one. That being said, I expect him to play 4-3-3 again with Kozák up top flanked by Weimann and maybe Bowery or Helenius if Agbonlahor isn't fit. Delph should be in midfield with possibly Sylla and Westwood if healthy or El Ahmadi. Tonev was poor the other day but he has good energy so could see some time as well. Joe Bennett should see his first action of the season at left back after Luna picked up a knock late and we should see a combination of Clark Baker and Vlaar at the two center back spots. Bacuna was great at right back but may be rested for Matt Lowton who has been pretty consistent but just had a bad day at the office against Newcastle. Maybe Jed Steer in goal?
EF: Where do you see the key battles taking place in this game?
JG: Key battles have got to be Villa's backs / defensive mids against Spurs attacking mids and whoever is at striker. After Defoe had a good game in the Europa League I somewhat expect he will start. Wide areas could also prove tricky for Villa's fullbacks and having wingers track back will be crucial.
EF: Who do you think is the dangerman for both sides?
JG: I love Christian Eriksen and think he will be a great player for Villas-Boas. I can see him really pulling the strings in the side especially with a combination of Paulinho, Sandro and Dembele to do some of the dirty work along with them being pretty good passers. For Villa if Helenius and Kozák both play it could cause some problems for Spurs just because they are so tall, but the midfield will have to all put in solid shifts for them to be effective.
EF: Looking past this tie, what are you realistically hoping to see from Villa for the rest of the season? Is a trophy the main aim, or would you rather the side focuses on securing a high League finish?
JG: I would really like the squad to learn how to play without Benteke or even just better as a team with him. It is somewhat inevitable that we may lose him in the near future unless we somehow qualified for Europe and/or won a trophy this season, which is a tad unrealistic. The league probably should be the priority, but after coming so close to going to Wembley last season the fans would love another deep cup run. I think that if an 8-10th place finish was still within reach by March, that would be an excellent job done by both the manager and the players.
EF: To pick up on an earlier theme momentarily- I, like you, have been mightily impressed with how Paul Lambert has gone about recruiting and testing and trusting in younger talents to build a strong foundation for his new Villa side. Which prospect are you most excited to have on the book going forward this season and beyond?
JG: It was really such a huge blow to see Okore injured and then having him ruled out for the season as he is definitely one for the future but also can make an impact now. Gary Gardner has been a name on the fans lips for a couple years but has also struggled with injury. Fabian Delph is a bit older but can really be the box to box man in midfield the side has lacked since losing Milner.
EF: What is your score prediction for this game?
JG: I don't think Villa have a great chance in this one, but then again we beat Man City last year in the cup. I'd say Spurs 2-1 Villa. Again, this depends on the lineups thrown out and we will see how seriously Lambert takes this one, with Manchester City coming to visit this upcoming weekend.
EF: Finally, a recurring CFC sentiment- fuck you Alex McLeish?
JG: McLeish was just the wrong choice from the start. Terrible tactics and didn't really let the young talent develop at all. Would be hilarious if he goes to Sunderland though!