PORTLAND, OR - JULY 24: Stephan Ireland #7 of Aston Villa reacts to an offsides call in the game against the Portland Timbers at Jeld-Wen Field on July 24, 2012 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
One of the nice things about the League Cup is that it often gives Premier League teams that haven't gotten off to the best of starts an opportunity to beat up on lower-league competition. The teams don't always take that opportunity; Villa's 2-0 win over Hereford United last season was significantly less comfortable than the scoreline would suggest, and the uninspired display took a bit of the air out of what had been a fairly decent start to the season. Still, for a side so desperately in need of confidence, going up against a League One side (and a mediocre League One side at that) might give the players a reminder that they are in fact pretty decent footballers.
I'll be honest in saying that I know next to nothing about Tranmere, and I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by pretending otherwise. They're really not important from my perspective in any case. That's not intended to be a dig at Rovers; I don't doubt that they have some very good players that could give Villa some trouble. But in the end, they're still playing two tiers below the Premier League. Giant killings happen, and they can happen to teams that are much better than Aston Villa. But they're still embarrassing, and in the case of Aston Villa losing in the second round of the League Cup to Tranmere would be a disaster. Winless, recently humiliated and facing a huge test on the weekend, Villa can't afford to overlook anyone.
Much of the time, bigger clubs can beat up on smaller clubs in these competitions despite being at something much less than their best. And though ultimately any win will be good enough, after the way the season has started out a comprehensive dismantling would be far more encouraging. This team needs to believe that they can not only win but do so emphatically. The lack of belief in their own quality was quite evident on Sunday, and though confidence isn't the only (or even most important) factor, it matters a lot.
Paul Lambert needs to lean heavily on some of the youngsters that are going to play key roles for Villa this season. They need to succeed, and they need to hear the Villa Park crowd roar their approval. If they can't handle Tranmere Rovers, our problems are even bigger than we thought. Everyone is well aware that this club is not in an optimal position, but it is what it is and Lambert is going to have to make the best of it. If he can get some of the kids to believe that they can perform well, that's a nice start.