After all the excitement of the arrival of Carles Gil this week, Villa fans still face the difficult task of imagining what a winning first XI might look like. This Saturday the visitors to Villa Park are Liverpool, coming in off a narrow 1-0 victory away at Sunderland. Here’s a team that might give Liverpool something to worry about:
The difficulty for Villa is the sheer number of players who probably deserve to be dropped on the back of the Leicester performance where the attack looked toothless and the defence unusually frail. The entire attacking unit with the possible exception of Ashley Westwood looked poor, and Jores Okore and Carlos Sánchez both had their worst performances for a while in Claret and Blue. The single best Villa player from the game, Ciaran Clark, is now suspended.
Central midfield and attack
While normally you might want to give a new signing time to bed in, it’s pretty clear that Villa need something different as soon as possible so Carles Gil should come into the side straight away. His preferred positions are either on the right, coming in off the wing, or as the most attacking midfielder. In this case he should probably go in the centre where Joe Cole looked well off the pace of the Premier League against Leicester. Westwood and Sánchez still look like the best options to round out a midfield trio, though Lambert might need to remind Carlos 'The Rock' to stop dwelling on the ball. Benteke remains undroppable despite a disinterested performance against Leicester – Villa desperately need him to strike up a relationship with Gil and increase his impressive tally against Liverpool of 4 goals in 4 games.
Hutton and Cissokho remain nailed-on starters, as probably does Jores Okore. Despite some clumsy play in possession against the Foxes, his mobility at the back is vital. That leaves either Baker or Senderos to come in for Clark – while there’s not much to call it one way or the other, Senderos´ threat from set-pieces swings it his way. The full-backs will need to be wary of Liverpool´s wing-backs coming up the field and will need help from their midfield. They were caught out against Leicester after being asked to provide all the width in the side.
On the wings
This leaves the tricky issue of the flanks. Villa suffered terribly from a lack of width against Leicester and need actual wingers, especially with Liverpool likely to field a 3-4-3 with two attacking wing-backs. Leandro Bacuna’s continued exclusion is mystifying for a player who scored 5 goals last season and he should be given an opportunity to come back into the side. Between Gil, Westwood and Bacuna, the set-piece options look formidable if nothing else does. On the left, the options are sparse, especially with Lambert’s unwillingness to play Grealish. However several of Gabby´s bright spots this season have come from chasing down the left wing and his pace might trouble the Liverpool defence – but Grealish should at least be on the bench as an option.
Villa are going to be up against a Liverpool side who appear to have found some of their attacking fluency again and are unlikely to be able to repeat their Anfield shut-out which revolved around Balotelli´s ineffectiveness. Villa will probably be on the counter-attack, and need to work the spaces behind the Liverpool wing-backs. To avoid the uninterested Benteke we've seen in previous matches, he should be instructed to drop deep and interchange positions with Gil to receive the ball from Westwood and Sánchez where hopefully Gil, Gabby and Bacuna can make runs ahead of him.
What do you think?
Let us know what you think below. Should Grealish start? Does Gabby still deserve a spot in the first XI? And how excited are you to see Carles Gil´s debut?
Edit: I was reminded by Robert that Delph should be coming back into the team this week because the Blackpool FA Cup match counted as one of his suspended games. In that case, Gil should replace Abgonlahor on the left and Delph come into the central midfield spot.