Anna Patten interview: Aston Villa defender discusses FA Cup semi-final chances against Chelsea

Playing at Wembley is a dream many youngsters have from a young age. For Aston Villa defender Anna Patten, that saying is literally true.

Patten’s grandparents live just a five-minute walk away from the biggest stadium in the country. The famous landmark was ever-present in the defender’s childhood.

“Quite often, we’d go over to my grandparents for sleepovers and I’d play in the back garden with my brothers and we could see the arch from there,” she told Sky Sports.

“It’s got a sweet spot in my heart, the FA Cup and Wembley.”

Patten’s dream is just now one win away. The 23-year-old, on loan from Arsenal, will likely line up in the back four for Villa as they take on Chelsea in Sunday’s semi-final.

But in their way are one of the best teams in the country, possibly even in Europe. Emma Hayes’ Blues come into the game as big favorites – but not guaranteed winners.

This weekend’s FA Cup semi-finals

  • Saturday: Man Utd vs Brighton – kick off 5.15pm
  • Sunday: Aston Villa vs Chelsea – kick off 2.15pm

Villa are having a surprisingly good season themselves. Carla Ward’s side are fifth in the table, 12 points off the summit and after beating Manchester City in the quarter-finals, they stand a more than decent chance of an upset.

“The intensity and work ethic in defending, making sure we prevent them having opportunities, has been huge,” Patten added. “It’s been a whole effort – back to front.

“That’s the reason we had a lot of joy against City and that’s what we’ve got to take in this game.

“When you’re playing the big teams – it’s about not fearing them. It’s quite easy to back off and give them respect. You can’t do that in these games.”

Villa featuring in their first FA Cup semi-final in their history makes it a special occasion. They are receiving support from the whole club as they bid to make a historic final. The men’s team did their part in their preparations for Sunday’s last-four tie in a training session on Friday.

“We had the Under-23 boys come over to ‘be Chelsea,'” Patten revealed. “They had all these tactics of the ways that Chelsea could play against us and we had to solve those issues.”

What Villa’s youth team won’t have, however, is the threat of Sam Kerr, fresh off scoring against England in midweek and focused on delivering more silverware for Chelsea.

Kerr found the net against Villa as recently as three weeks ago, scoring a classy third in Chelsea’s 3-0 league away win – a result which saw Patten’s side compete, but fail to scratch the Blues’ difficult surface.

“That’s what they’re like,” the centre-back said, reflecting on the game. “You can’t give them many opportunities.

“Chelsea have players who can make something out of nothing. They’re one of the most clinical teams in front of goal so we have to nullify as many chances as we can.

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Highlights of the WSL match between Aston Villa and Chelsea

“What we were upset at as a team [in the league defeat] is that two of the goals came from set-pieces so they’ve been a big focus in this game on Sunday.

“It’s also about managing momentum – against teams like that there are going to be waves of pressure and opportunities for them. But it is about getting through those and then taking our chances at the other end.”

Asked about the threat of Kerr, Patten – who will likely mark her on Sunday – added: “One of her main strengths is in the air, so that’s one of the things we’ve been working on and hopefully we can get those opportunities. “

Let’s not forget the threat that Villa poses, especially with the second-highest Women’s Super League goalscorer in Rachel Daly in attack. Add Alisha Lehmann and Kenza Dali into the mix – and with top-level experience such as Jordan Nobbs and Patten in the team, there is plenty for Sunday’s hosts to offer.

“Our front line and midfield have been unreal at creating chances and scoring them,” said Patten. “People talk about ‘Daly and Dali’ and they’ve got a great relationship and scored goals together. We’ve got great powerful wingers who have created lots of chances.

Aston Villa players celebrate after Rachel Daly gives them a 2-1 lead
Aston Villa have plenty to offer going forward

“When you have someone like Rachel Daly in the box, it’s great being on her team but not in training when you have to defend against her! She is just as clinical as the big names in women’s football.

“She’s a great player to have in training and around the team as well. What she’s done here is come in, be very comfortable and confident, and taken a lot of the young girls under the wing, which a lot of them have appreciated.

“She also doesn’t put herself on a pedestal, she could have after coming back from the Euros, but that’s not what she’s like at all. She’s a great player, she has so much quality. Left, right, headers, volleys – you name it.”

Daly has helped contribute to a change in mentality at Villa this season. The Lionesses forward’s arrival from the USA in the summer has been backed up by the signings of Nobbs and Lucy Staniforth earlier this year.

Patten, who was on loan at Villa last season too, has seen the shift in first-hand mentality.

Rachel Daly is Aston Villa's star player this season
Rachel Daly is Aston Villa’s star player this season

“There’s definitely been a step up,” she said. “In previous years, people have looked at Villa and gone: ‘a back five and a direct team’.

“But we pride ourselves on playing out from the back and our aggressive press and how we really take it to teams now instead of sitting off and letting them dominate.”

Patten will also see Sunday’s semi-final as a major personal opportunity to impress. The England U23s defender is eyeing up a place in Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses squad – an achievement which she admits is a career goal, but one she does not feel close to yet.

But being at high-flying Villa – set for a top-five finish in the WSL and potentially a FA Cup final – will not do her chances of any harm.

“A big goal for me would be trying to push and step up into the Lionesses squad but I am aware of the high level of competition in my position,” she said when asked what she wants the next few years to look like.

“What’s great for me is Sunday is a big opportunity and big teams and that’s where you can go out and prove yourself. And then hopefully the final after that, but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.”

Is Patten surprised about this standout Villa season? “It hasn’t surprised us girls, where we are in the league or how far we’ve gone in the cup. We all expected it.

“It’s more people going outside: ‘Ooh, that’s a surprising one!’”

Patten is hoping people will react similarly to the result of Sunday’s game.

Follow live updates of Aston Villa’s FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea on Sky Sports’ live blog from Sunday, kick-off 2.15pm