Former Aston Villa skipper Gareth Southgate believes manager Gerard Houllier "runs the risk of a lot of criticism" after fielding a much-changed side for the FA Cup clash at Manchester City.
Houllier made eight changes to the side which defeated Blackburn 4-1 at the weekend in the Barclays Premier League, although striker Darren Bent was cup-tied and defender Nathan Baker injured.
Villa were beaten 3-0 as City secured a home quarter-final with Reading to leave Houllier to concentrate on the league.
But Southgate feels Villa had no need to be so concerned about being involved in a relegation battle.
Southgate, now working as a pundit for ITV, said: "I was really surprised with the Villa side.
"Darren Bent was cup-tied but I was really looking forward to seeing Young and Downing who have been so in form for them.
"But Houllier completely shuffled the pack. There were five players who were 21 or under.
"It was a statement of intent but I'm not quite sure what the intent was.
"It seems to me as if he was saying 'we've got a problem in the league, we're only four or five points outside the relegation zone' and that is his priority.
"But I don't think Villa are relegation candidates at all. He didn't need to worry about that."
Southgate added: "Houllier is clearly protecting his players for the league but when you are so close to having an opportunity to win something, very often you take your cup form into the league.
"As a manager, if you leave your best players out, you run the risk of a lot of criticism. Gerard Houllier will have known that.
"I'm a great believer in, if you get momentum as a team, you keep it going.
"He had a great result at the weekend. He obviously has his reasons for changing the team but I thought Villa could have had a real go at City.
"The Villa fans will have gone home feeling very flat. They could have had a quarter-final against Reading at home."