In their past three league games, Aston Villa have outplayed their opponents. Manager Tim Sherwood has got the team playing an attractive style that is producing goals. Yet despite these improved performances, the Villans earned just four points from those three matches. Ending up with a draw against QPR and a loss to Manchester City could come back to haunt the team as the business end of the season approaches, as the relegation race remains clear as mud.
Next up is a match at Villa Park against Everton --who are dreadful away from home. Roberto Martinez's side has picked up just 16 of their 44 points away from Goodison Park. It's a match where a win is a real possibility, and at least a draw is necessary. If Villa are to get any points on Saturday, the defence needs to be at their best.
We know this team has been fighting a losing battle with injuries at the back. Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker being done for the season is a big blow, but at least Ron Vlaar is back and playing well. He'll partner Jores Okore in central defence, and the pair will be tasked with stopping Romelu Lukaku - easier said than done. Alan Hutton continues to be sidelined, but maybe we could see Aly Cissokho replace Kieran Richardson on the left. Leandro Bacuna will start on the right, and both will have their work cut out for them. Everton's fullback duo of Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman is one of the best in the league. Plus, Aaron Lennon and Kevin Mirallas are tricky wingers to deal with. Let's hope Brad Guzan has completely forgotten about what happened last weekend at the Etihad...
Midfield is where the game may be won. Last week, Villa out-possessed the Citizens, seeing 55 percent of the ball. This was crucial as it led to 13 shots and six corners. Everton may be perfectly happy to cede possession, as they had less than 35 percent in their 3-0 win over Manchester United last week. The Toffees were efficient, and won the ball at the right time. Their defensive midfield pairing of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy will be locked in a battle royale against Fabian Delph, Tom Cleverley and either Ashley Westwood or Carlos Sánchez. Ross Barkley will have to track back in order to involve himself in the game.
Gabby Agbonlahor should be fit, meaning he will partner Christian Benteke up top. Jack Grealish will play behind the pair, looking for space created by the strikers. Phil Jagielka and John Stones are both solid centre backs, meaning this is another key area to watch. Barry may have to sit deeper in order to nullify Grealish. It could come down to Tim Howard. It's been an up-and-down season following a brilliant World Cup for the American, but he's allowed just two goals in his last six starts.
Aston Villa: 4<4>2:
Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Ron Vlaar, Aly Cissokho; Ashley Westwood, Tom Cleverley, Fabian Delph, Jack Grealish; Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor.
Tim Howard; Seamus Coleman, John Stones, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines; Gareth Barry, James McCarthy; Aaron Lennon, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas; Romelu Lukaku.
Who do you think should start for Aston Villa? What areas of the pitch do you think are crucial? Let us know in the comments!
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