Wednesday 26 February 2020 4:35 pm

As Aston Villa brace for the Carabao Cup final, is a trophy more important than Premier League survival?

The magic of a Wembley cup final is difficult to replicate but the importance of winning domestic silverware appears to have become increasingly secondary to the need to remain in the Premier League.

For the thousands of Aston Villa fans set to descend on London this Sunday for the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, an end to their 24-year wait for a major trophy would be a huge statement that the club has turned its fortunes around.

But for a team also battling to avoid relegation, is the additional strain of a cup run worth the potential reward?

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It does not denote any of the romantic notions of a final – after all, football is about winning – but the growing importance of remaining in England’s top-flight cannot be understated as Villa, who have just returned from a three-year stay in the Championship, can vouch.

However, when they faced Liverpool’s second string in the EFL Cup quarter-final and then avoided either Manchester side in the semi-final, the stars appeared to be aligning for the Midlands club.

Southampton FC v Aston Villa - Premier League
Dean Smith has guided Villa back to the top-flight and a League Cup final but a relegation battle looms

The opportunity to go all guns blazing against Leicester and reach the final was too tempting for boyhood-fan-turned-manager Dean Smith – and who can blame him?

“These finals help to build a tradition,” says Aston Villa Supporters’ Trust director Jonny Gould. “Winning a trophy, as any major club will tell you, changes the trajectory of the club. We’ve lost too many finals at Wembley in recent years.”

Villa suffered defeats in the 2010 League Cup final and 2015 FA Cup final to Manchester United and Arsenal respectively, and now face the daunting prospect of City on Sunday, who last year completed a domestic treble with a 6-0 drubbing of Watford.

Relegation battle looms for Villa

But it’s hard to escape the feeling that Villa’s Carabao Cup exploits appear to have hampered their league form.

Since that semi-final second-leg victory over Leicester a month ago, Villa have suffered three straight league defeats and are now just one point above the relegation zone.

Aston Villa v Manchester City - Premier League
Aston Villa lost 6-1 to Man City in January in a league match and are just one point above the relegation zone.

They would not be the first side to have tried juggling a cup run while battling relegation and there is still the possibility they could join an exclusive club of cup winners who got relegated, which includes local rivals Birmingham City.

In 2011, Birmingham beat Arsenal to win the League Cup but were subsequently relegated, while Wigan Athletic suffered a similar fate in 2013 after beating City in the FA Cup final.

Portsmouth, meanwhile, made it to the 2010 FA Cup final only to lose and get relegated.

“An FA Cup run would have hampered us, but two legs against Leicester and a final with City, I don’t think that is as exhausting as people make out,” Gould adds.

Silverware or survival?

For some fans, silverware is more important than anything else. For others, preserving a club’s Premier League status is paramount.

“The Premier League is most important, because that way we can get back to the Carabao Cup final next season,” Gould says.

“Frankly, if we are dodging bullets and Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship, we are not going to be playing anyone in the Carabao Cup final.

TOPSHOT-FBL-ENG-ASTON VILLA-DERBY
Villa’s last visit to Wembley saw them win the play-off final and earn promotion to the Premier League

“If we are in the top flight, with the squad, with the revenue, it’s unromantic but the Premier League holds the keys to everything and anyone who answers that question any other way is naive.

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“Ask Wigan and Birmingham fans about winning a trophy and what it did for them. We’ve never seen them again, and in Birmingham’s case, we probably never will,” he laughs.

Sunday will be Villa’s fifth appearance at Wembley in 10 years and third in a major cup final.

While winning would be a huge cause for celebration, the reality is that if Villa are to re-establish themselves as a major force in English football, staying in the Premier League is more important.

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