IT’S clear the Marvelous Nakamba we are seeing these days is not the one who started his Premier League journey with a bang back in September 2019.
Nakamba’s form has dipped and it has been a cause for concern both for Aston Villa fans and Zimbabwean football followers at large.
The 25-year-old Warriors midfielder has been getting an average rating of 6.5 in his last four Premiership games against Southampton, Tottenham, Bournemouth and Watford.
While his pass accuracy averages over 80 percent in almost every game he plays, Nakamba has been lacking that key pass, according to renowned match statisticians, Whoscored.com.
He was substituted in the 81st minute when Aston Villa lost 2-0 at Southampton last weekend and only came in as a 60th minute replacement in the 2-3 loss home loss to Tottenham on February 16.
However, Villa coach Dean Smith’s faith in the Zimbabwean international has not faded that much as the English gaffer is set to name Nakamba in the starting XI to face Manchester City in the 60th League Cup final at Wembley today.
Kick-off is 6:30pm Zimbabwean time.
And Nakamba could become only the second Zimbabwean after legendary former goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar to feature in an English League Cup final, now known as the Carabao Cup, should Smith select him this evening.
Grobbelaar started for Liverpool when The Reds beat Merseyside rivals Everton in the 1984 final.
Former Warriors skipper Peter Ndlovu played in the semi-final for Sheffield United in 2003 while Benjani Mwaruwari reached the last four with Manchester City in 2010.
Nakamba knows he is on the verge of history and spent the whole of last week meditating about today’s fixture.
So anxious was Nakamba that he was not keen to discuss much about the assignment, preferring to speak after the final.
However, Aston Villa correspondent for Birmingham Live, Ashley Preece – a respected voice when it comes to Villa news – last Friday tipped Nakamba to play a pivotal role in the final.
“Smith (Dean) should look to make the engine room a chaotic, combative and dogfight-like war zone. The boss could opt for Marvelous Nakamba to play the pivotal anchor man role to protect Villa’s back four, with Douglas Luiz and Conor Hourihane being pest-like ahead of him,” wrote Preece.
Nakamba had a decent game against Manchester City when Villa lost 3-0 at the Etihad last October but was benched for the return leg which the Clarets and Blue lost 6-1 at Villa Park on January 12, 2020.
He only came in for Luiz in the 65th minute when Villa were already 5-0 down.
And tonight, Villa faces a Manchester City side that is fresh from a stunning 2-1 win over Real Madrid in a UEFA Champions League round of 16 tie at the Bernabeu last Wednesday.
Villa manager Smith is however, spurred on by his club’s underdog tag, although they have a better head to head record over City in this competition.
The two have met four times previously in the competition with Villa winning three and City once.
But this will be the first ever meeting between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Wembley and only their second ever at a neutral venue.
And for Nakamba, it would be his first date with the famed Wembley, the home of major England cup finals.
For Zimbabweans, it could also provide a sneak preview of the showdown between Nakamba and Manchester City’s Algerian talisman Riyad Mahrez ahead of the two countries’ top of the table Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers on March 23 and March 31.
“We’re massive underdogs against a world class team,” Smith told the BBC.
“But I can only name one or two other teams who wouldn’t be underdogs going into the game against City. They are a fantastic team, no matter which 11 they put out, and they’ve a fantastic coach which is why they can go to the Bernabeu and get a result.
“I like sometimes being the underdog because we can go and have a good fight without people expecting anything of us.”
City are aiming for a third successive Carabao Cup triumph and their coach Pep Guardiola told BBC of his team’s hunger.
“The mentality is the same, to be starving and hungry to win another one,” Guardiola was quoted as saying.
Manchester City star attacking midfielder, Kevin De Bruyne, a player who could pose serious problems to Villa’s defence, told Sky Sports his team was taking the Carabao Cup “seriously.”
“This club takes every competition seriously. It doesn’t matter what competition we play, we play to win it and we’ve shown that whoever you’re playing in this competition, new players and maybe players who play a little less, are there to win the game,” De Bruyne said.
First held in the 1960-1961 season, the League Cup, which is currently known as the Carabao Cup for sponsorship reasons, is one of the three top-tier domestic competitions in England alongside the Premier League and the FA Cup.
Winners of the cup automatically qualify for the Europa League.
Such is the importance of the cup that former Warriors gunman, Agent “Ajira” Sawu, thinks Nakamba’s appearance in the final could open more avenues for Zimbabwean football.
“It’s good for Nakamba, it’s a great individual achievement. It should be a motivation for upcoming stars,” said Sawu.
Founder and director of BN Academy, Bheki Nyoni, is tipping the Bantu Rovers product to shine.
“This is the greatest experience for him. Everyone aspires to play in big finals but not all make it, so I think this should be a great feeling for Nakamba and Zimbabwe as a whole.
“All this comes with the mentality instilled into these players at a young age,” said Nyoni.
Former CAPS United star, Alois Bunjira, has described Nakamba as the pride of Zimbabwe.
“Suddenly we have all become Villa fans. As Zimbabweans we are so proud, the boy (Nakamba) has put the nation on the world map.”
Veteran TV presenter and football commentator, Charles “CNN” Mabika feels the final could be Nakamba’s chance to redeem himself.
“This is a great chance for Nakamba to show the world what he is made of. He has had a love-hate relationship with Villa fans and I think this final could swing the barometer in his favour.
“This final could also serve as a dress rehearsal for our back-to-back AFCON qualifiers against Algeria as City have Riyad Mahrez who also stars for the Desert Foxes,” said Mabika.
Villa are chasing a sixth League Cup triumph after beating Crewe, Brighton, Wolves, Liverpool and Leicester City to reach the 2020 final. Liverpool are the most successful team in this 60-year-old competition with eight titles, Manchester City have six and Aston Villa have 5.