Obviously when the news of star striker Christian Benteke's injury broke yesterday, everyone around the club was devastated. To make matters worse in the that department, Gabriel Agbonlahor is also a doubt as he faces a late fitness test. Agbonlahor has been battling an illness. That leaves Aston Villa Manager Paul Lambert with a serious selection headache. He has a good amount of options at striker, although they are players who don't have very much experience. Excluding journeyman Grant Holt, all of Lambert's prospective choices are under the age of 23. Nicklas Helenius, Jordan Bowery, Callum Robinson, and Andi Weimann are the players in question. Robert said in yesterday's Holtecast that he thought Marc Albrighton should be played up top alongside Andi. I think we will see Albrighton, but probably not as one of the farthest forward. He has really shown his ability crossing the ball in recent weeks and therefore would be most effective deployed on the right wing. He is also very right-footed, which is unfortunate because so is Weimann and one of them would surely be forced into playing on the left if Lambert elects to keep use the 4-3-3.
In Midfield, Karim El Ahmadi looks likely to miss as he continues to struggle with a hip/thigh injury, suffered in the defeat against Stoke City. Gary Gardner also will miss, although I doubt we would have seen him even if he was perfectly healthy. That leaves Yacouba Sylla to be the most likely to see playing time in the midfield if Lambert wants to stick with his trusty 4-3-3, or he could move Leandro Bacuna up. If he decides to go 4-4-2, we will most likely see Aleksander Tonev on the left side of midfield. Fabian Delph, who is probably Villa's best outfield player after the injury to Benteke, is the only lock in midfield besides Ashley Westwood. Westwood has been playing well in recent weeks, and despite the fact that the team wasted his great free kick against Manchester United, it is nice to see that he has that ability.
Defense brings a bit of better news for the Villa boss, as Nathan Baker will be eligible for selection. Honestly both Baker and Ciaran Clark have looked lost at times during recent matches, and their momentarily lack of focus lead directly to goals being conceded. Hopefully the leadership of Ron Vlaar will help these players in the match. Ryan Bertrand should start at left back. If Bacuna is pushed up to play midfield in some capacity, we would see Matt Lowton at right back. Playing with five at the back would be an option, however I don't think it is the best option for this week, just because it doesn't match up particularly well against a formation with one striker, which is what Fulham tend to use. After performing exceptionally well, Joe Bennett hasn't got another chance to show how he has developed in a year spent battling injuries and sitting on the bench. I think he will be included in the matchday squad but don't expect him to start.
I've decided to choose a 4-4-1-1 / 4-5-1 shape with Helenius and Weimann up front, despite personally really wanting to see Callum Robinson for a couple of weeks now. I don't think it's realistic to believe that Paul Lambert would start him, but wouldn't be surprised to see him substituted on.
Subs from: Steer, Clark, Sylla, Robinson, Tonev, Lowton, Holt.
Who would you decide to play and why? Let us know in the comments!
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