In a season that's already seemed to include quite a few "must-win" matches, this match against Wigan Athletic is the must-winniest of all. To allow the Latics to win would mean that Aston Villa truly are in this relegation battle. It would certainly bring the Villa a step back from the weekend and that incredible win against Manchester City. Even a point, in this case, would feel like failure, as three could lift the club so much closer to the middle of the table.
Despite five draws in their last eight matches, Wigan are beatable, as proven by Arsenal's solid 3-0 victory at the weekend. The Latics will be without defender Gary Caldwell, who was sent off in that match against the Gunners, but quite honestly, the Wigan defense did nothing but lie down and let the likes of Robin van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri run rampant all over them, so if Wigan replace him with a cardboard cutout we might not know the difference. It was goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi that kept Wigan from another 6-0 hammering, although to be fair the most they've let in since August has been three.
But as Aston Villa learned on Saturday, you don't need multiple goals to earn multiple points. If Darren Bent can poach just one, and James Collins and Richard Dunne continue to be absolutely rock solid at the back, the Villa have their win. The real curiosity surrounding this match is how AVFC will set up.
The formation on Saturday was described as anything from a 4-1-3-1-1 to a 4-1-4-1 to a 4-1-5, despite Fox Soccer Channel's insane desire to squeeze it into a 4-4-2 box. What is not debated is that Ashley Young and Stewart Downing played centrally, Gabriel Agbonlahor moved out left, Stiliyan Petrov was the only holding midfielder and four center backs spread out across the back line. It looked insane but there's a fine line between genius and insanity and if Gerard Houllier wants to continue to straddle it that's fine by me.
But what now? Jean Makoun will travel to Wigan, but there's no guarantee that he will start. If he does, Houllier must make a choice: in place of Petrov, or with Petrov? The AVFC captain was superb on Saturday, so it's hard to justify taking him off, unless it's to give him a rest. To bring on two defensive midfielders means taking off one of the thousands of wingers the Villa have accumulated.
And another problem that's nice to have: Emile Heskey is available. Many have been calling for Heskey to pair up front with Bent, but there's no reason for Villa to revert to a 4-4-2, despite FSC's desire to shove everyone into that little box. Heskey has helped out this season, no doubt, but Bent is a better Heskey and there's no need to have both of them on the field at once, at least not at the start of the match.
This match against Wigan doesn't require the same sort of need to constantly bombard the opposing defense with attack after attack, yet I rather like the idea of a getting a fluid front five to gel. Giving Agbonlahor more time on the wing is key to that formation. The back line almost must stay the same, given that the club are looking for a back door to shove Stephen Warnock out of and it seems Luke Young has yet to recover from injury.
Between health, degree of tiredness, and Houllier's insane genius, it seems fruitless to predict a lineup. What do y'all want to see happen at the DW on Tuesday?