O'Neill is desperate to end Villa drought

Managers excited by Wembley date as they know Cup may offer best hope of silverware

Arsene Wenger may deride the Carling Cup as a "non-trophy", but one of the tasks facing Aston Villa and Manchester United tomorrow is not simply to put on a show that makes the Frenchman's words sound like sour sniping but to ensure that the final fulfils the promise of two pulsating semi-final ties.

Villa came from 2-0 down to Blackburn Rovers to win the second leg by a tennis score, while United dramatically squeezed past Manchester City. "If someone had told City and United 'this isn't a real trophy' they would have got short shrift," the Villa manager, Martin O'Neill, said. Sir Alex Ferguson expected "a different type of game" at Wembley but conceded it may not reach "the same level of emotion".

This is United's third final in five years, a record which underlines the store Ferguson now sets by the competition. Having scrapped a plan to rest key personnel for the return with City, he faces a similar dilemma over whether to start with veteran goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar and 27-goal Wayne Rooney tomorrow.

Since the game may represent United's best chance of silverware, the probability is that both potential match-winners will play. For Villa, who have not lifted a trophy since winning this cup 14 years ago, the only selection quandaries are whether to play 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, incorporating Fabian Delph, and whether to retain John Carew at Emile Heskey's expense.

"The club has had a pretty poor time of it since winning the European Cup in 1982," O'Neill said. "They won the League Cup against United in '94 and again in '96 [against Leeds], but Chelsea at Wembley in 2000 is the only FA Cup final since '57. It's up to us to try to change that. It's something new for a lot of the players and I hope it's genuinely the start of something for this team."

Villa are also through to the FA Cup quarter-finals as well as vying for the Champions League place which remains O'Neill's primary target. "We can get beaten at Wembley and lose to Reading the following Sunday, but this is the sort of vision we had," he added. "We've been here three and a half seasons and I'd like this club to be involved in such matches in February or March in years to come.''

Ferguson and his team have been more frequent visitors to Wembley, this being the Scot's 27th final. Familiarity has scarcely curbed his enthusiasm. "You can't help but be excited coming to a final, but the only way to enjoy Wembley is by winning, and we've experienced both sides of it over the years," he said. "It's the ones you lose where you ask yourself, 'Did I pick the right team?'''

If he resists the temptation to rest Rooney ahead of England duty, United will possess an individual capable of unlocking a well-drilled, aerially powerful Villa rearguard with a flash of inspiration or raw power. O'Neill may look to his captain, Stiliyan Petrov, to prevent fellow Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov finding the space to feed Rooney.

Villa will seek to exploit the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young, whose counter-attacking threat will lead Ferguson to start with the fit-again Nemanja Vidic.

The rival managers have a strong mutual respect and enjoy, as Ferguson put it, "a cup of tea or a glass of wine" after a match. Something rather fizzier awaits tomorrow's victors. But while the importance of winning a trophy, even a so-called non-trophy, cannot be under-estimated, the relentless nature of the modern game means the result will be equally significant for both clubs in terms of the impetus it could provide for the remainder of the season.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform