Aston Villa have struggled to score goals this season. Just 11 in 19 matches is the lowest in the English Premier League. Fortunately, the defence has been excellent, conceding just 22. Only the current top four sides in the division (Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Southampton) have let in fewer. The defending has been the reason that Paul Lambert's side remain outside the relegation places, despite their inability to score. Sitting in 13th, there is a five point buffer between the Villans and the drop zone. It isn't quite comfortable, but it could be worse.
The Claret and Blues next opponent, Crystal Palace, have been less successful this season. Level on points with Hull and Burnley with 16, the Eagles are in 18th due to their goal difference. The poor first half of the season led to the sacking of manager Neil Warnock, and it looks like Alan Pardew will be moving down from Newcastle to replace him.
Last time these two teams met, Aston Villa won 1-0. Last year, Palace won both fixtures by that same scoreline. So there haven't been too many goals in this fixture lately, and I wouldn't expect that to change. Under Tony Pulis last season, Palace favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation. Warnock set his team up in more of a 4-3-3 or 4-4-1-1, but we may see a shift back to the 4-2-3-1, the formation that Pardew has preferred at Newcastle.
The Crystal Palace forwards haven't had a whole lot of success this season. Mile Jedinak is the top goalscorer for the London club, with five goals. Frazier Campbell, Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh have combined for six. Playing a 4-2-3-1 depends on the attacking midfielders providing some help for the frontman, whomever that is. Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie are both capable wingers, and will need to provide service.
The managerial change undoubtedly will be an unnecessary distraction, but a useful one for Villa. Even if the system remains similar, new management will be awkward and is a chance to take the three points. To win a match, you have to score at least a goal though, something Aston Villa have done just once in their last four times out. Avoiding red cards may help.
Christian Benteke is a striker who needs service. Charles N'Zogbia quite obviously isn't someone who can be relied upon to provide this. Jack Grealish quite clearly is, whether or not Lambert chooses to see it. He should start, and quite frankly, Villa Twitter may explode if he does not.
Gabby Agbonlahor is available after serving his suspension for yellow card accumulation, and should replace Andi Weimann. Fabian Delph probably will be out, but Kieran Richardson's ban is over, meaning we could see him in midfield. Carlos Sánchez was excellent last time out, but the lack of Ashley Westwood is still being felt. Hopefully Tom Cleverley has a better match than he did against Sunderland. Leandro Bacuna had a good game last time out, and should get a chance to start. His ability to strike a free kick means that he should get a start, especially in a team struggling to score goals. He scored five goals last season in the Premier League, showing he has finishing ability outside of set pieces as well.
Jores Okore may make a return to the starting lineup, as Ciaran Clark faces a late fitness test after sustaining a back injury last time out. He will partner Ron Vlaar, and we should see Aly Cissokho and Alan Hutton at the fullback positions.
Here's the lineup I'd go with (4-4-2) L->R
Brad Guzan; Aly Cissokho, Jores Okore, Ron Vlaar, Alan Hutton; Jack Grealish, Carlos Sánchez, Tom Cleverley, Leandro Bacuna; Gabby Agbonlahor, Christian Benteke.
That's assuming Delph's ban is upheld. What would you go with if you were Paul Lambert? Let us know in the comments!