Currently stuck in the Premier League’s relegation zone, Aston Villa will play in the League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday.
It is actually their second visit to a domestic cup showpiece in the last 10 years, although they will be hoping to avoid a repeat of their 4-0 loss against Arsenal in the 2015 FA Cup final. In that match, they were the clear underdogs, and they will be again this time round against the Citizens. Pep Guardiola’s men, after all, are the Premier League champions, and are also the holders of this very trophy having beaten Chelsea on penalties at Wembley last season.
Whilst they will be up against it in London, history says that the favourites do not always prevail.
Here are three cases from which the Villans can draw inspiration as they look to lift the trophy.
Seven years ago, City were still getting to grips with their new-found wealth after Sheikh Mansour had completed his takeover over the club in 2008.
Although they were not as accustomed to success they are now, they were still expected to brush aside a Wigan team that was struggling to stay in the Premier League. Going in to the match, they were actually in the bottom three, and it seemed that they may have one eye on their final two fixtures in the league rather than the match against City.
The Manchester outfit lined up with £38m signing Sergio Aguero and £25m Yaya Toure, whilst Roberto Martinez, then manager of Wigan, fielded Arouna Kone, who was the most-expensive player in his starting XI at £2.7m. The gulf in quality could hardly have been any greater.
In all fairness, it was a close affair – City edged possession with 52% to 48%, whilst both sides had 15 shots. The two could not be separated, and it looked as though it would be going to extra time.
However, Pablo Zabaleta’s late red card gave Wigan the momentum and, in the first minute of stoppage time, Ben Watson wrote himself into the history books by scoring the winner. The Lancashire outfit lifted the trophy, but their campaign didn’t end on a high – they were relegated a week later.
Still, a trophy and a Europa League campaign in 2013/14 probably made up for it for the supporters.
It may not please to many Villa fans to take inspiration from their fierce city rivals Birmingham, but they caused an upset of their own during the 2008/09 season. The Midlands outfit reached the final of the League Cup as they struggled at the bottom of the Premier League table, and they were in 16th place going in to the match. Arsenal, meanwhile, were second, with only Manchester United ahead of them.
Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri and Tomas Rosicky were amongst those to line-up for the Gunners, whilst Nikola Zigic, Sebastian Larsson and Liam Ridgewell played for Birmingham. It was Arsenal who dominated proceedings, with 58% possession to 42% and 12 shots to seven, but van Persie was needed to cancel out Zigic’s opener.
The match looked to be heading towards extra-time until Wojciech Szczesny and defender Laurent Koscielny got their communication all wrong in the 89th minute, allowing Obafemi Martins to tap into an empty net. It was another example of Arsenal’s lack of bottle, whilst Birmingham earned themselves a European tour – and, unlike Wigan, it didn’t come at the price of their top-tier status either.
The mother of all FA Cup final shocks.
Liverpool were undoubtedly the best team in the country at the time – they had won the league five times that decade by the time they faced Wimbledon, including during the 1987/88 season, and had won the FA Cup four times as well. The Dons, meanwhile, had been in the Fourth division 10 years earlier, with them having just finished their second-ever top flight campaign.
Wimbledon were known as the “Crazy Gang”, with their squad consisting of hard-men such as Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu and Dennis Wise, and Jones’ crunching tackle on Steve McMahon less than five minutes into the match set the tone.
Liverpool were unable to play their usual dominating football, instead being dragged down to Wimbledon’s level. Lawrie Sanchez gave his side the lead shortly before half-time, and that was how it stayed – Dave Beasant even made history by becoming the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in a Cup final.
After the final whistle, John Motson uttered the immortal words: “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club” as Wimbledon lifted the trophy for the first – and only – time in their history.