Aston Villa have not lost in their last three matches. That's good right? Well, not if you consider the fact that the club have not won in nine matches. The infamous winless streak dates back to September and a 1-0 win against Liverpool. Fortunately, Christian Benteke returns for Tuesday's match away to Crystal Palace, an important fixture against a team in relatively the same spot in the league standings.
Palace are 14th, Villa are 16th. Both teams have picked up 13 points from as many matches, with three wins, four draws, and six losses apiece. Goal difference separates the two sides and one reason for this is Neil Warnock's side have scored a tangible amount of goals, with 18 compared to the miserable figure of seven scored by Villa.
Last time out against Burnley, Villa played some good attacking football compared to what we've seen the past couple of seasons. I attribute a lot of that to Joe Cole. Sure, he scored the goal, but he was instrumental in the build-up play. His passing was solid at 81 percent, and he created four chances from open play. He should start again and play the number ten behind two strikers; Andi Weimann and the returning Benteke. Gabby Agbonlahor has been too much of a defensive liability late in matches, but could be used effectively as an impact sub.
Carlos Sánchez is still adjusting to the Premier League, but appears to be improving each week. He still is somewhat careless on the ball, but his energy and tenacity have definitely been an upgrade over a Karim El Ahmadi or a Yacouba Sylla. He'll start in midfield with Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverley, with Fabian Delph still out.
Palace will line up in a 4-4-1-1, and the main battle will be in the middle of midfield. Packing four central midfielders in that area will give Villa the best chance to make the most of possession; something they don't often do, but something they did well against Burnley. The match could hinge on a key tackle or interception.
Unfortunately for Villa, three central defenders remain sidelined with injuries. However, this means we get to see Jores Okore again, who has been fantastic. His partner should be Ciaran Clark, who hasn't been as bad as many thought he would be. Aly Cissokho is quietly having a very solid year and Alan Hutton hasn't done anything that would justify taking him out of the side. Brad Guzan starts in goal.
Here's how I would set the team up (4<4>2):
Guzan; Cissokho, Clark, Okore, Hutton; Westwood, Sanchez, Cleverley, Cole; Benteke, Weimann.
Subs from: Given, Lowton, Grealish, Robinson, Agbonlahor, N'Zogbia, Richardson.
What formation/players would you choose if you were Paul Lambert? Let us know in the comments!