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Aston Villa face the unknown as a desperate Fulham come to town

On the back of two heavy defeats and facing an immediate future without their best player, Aston Villa's primary goal must be getting through the rest of the season without being dragged back into the relegation battle. They face their first test against a Fulham side in dire need of points in order to remain in the Premier League.

Paul Gilham

Do you remember how things felt just over three weeks ago? Aston Villa were fresh off stunning Chelsea 1-0, a very encouraging follow-up to a 4-1 thumping over Norwich City. Things appeared to be setting up nicely for a strong finish, with 10th place well within reach and-maybe, just maybe-a run at 9th in the cards. Now, after two 4-1 losses and news that Christian Benteke will be out for the remainder of the season, the biggest concern is whether or not Villa can avoid being dragged back into the relegation battle.

Given that the gap between Villa and the bottom three stands at 8 points (and-perhaps more importantly-five teams) that doesn't seem especially likely. 37 points or thereabouts seems to be the magic number this season, and with three points over seven games isn't an especially difficult task for even the worst teams. But given the amount of uncertainty surrounding how Villa will fare without Benteke, it's going to be just a bit nerve-wracking until they manage to get there.

Compared to Fulham's predicament, Villa's outlook is positively rosy. Thanks largely to the fact that the Premier League is (in a top-to-bottom sense) mediocre at best this season, there's still some hope that the Cottagers can make a run at survival. But at some point, Fulham actually need to win games if they hope to climb out of the basement. Given that they've managed to do that just twice in 2014, it's perfectly reasonable to be skeptical that the number of victories required to achieve survival are in the cards.

Ordinarily, all of that would be a positive. But this is Aston Villa we're talking about; they're capable of beating anyone in the Premier League, but they're equally capable of not only losing but losing in hilarious fashion to anyone in the entire football league. And that was the case before their best player ruptured his achilles tendon. We're likely in for an Aston Villa front line anchored by Andreas Weimann and Grant Holt in this match; we all love Andi but he's not really done a whole lot this season, while Grant Holt is also a person that exists. Fulham are bad enough that Villa could still manage to win easily, but would another lopsided loss really be surprising? At this point, probably not.

I don't like to sound pessimistic, and that's not even really the angle I'm approaching it from. It's just that I've given up on trying to predict how well Villa will play against any opposition, especially now that their best players is missing. Fulham are a very bad team. Their attack is mediocre-and that's probably being kind-while their defense is horrendously, comically bad; 73 was the most any team conceded last season, and Fulham have matched it with six games still to play. But on their worst day-which have been far less common this season than the last few, thankfully-Villa are every bit as bad. And with Fulham as desperate as they are, there's just no way to feel as confident as one should heading in to a home game against the league's worst side.