Looking to keep a four-match unbeaten streak alive, Aston Villa will take a trip to The Hawthorns on Saturday to pay West Bromwich Albion a visit. Less than four miles separate Villa Park and the home of their West Midlands rivals, but the Claret and Blues trail their foes by seven spots and 15 points in the table.
This probably isn't the place to go if you're looking for goals. Five of West Brom's seven wins have been one-nillers. Villa have scored multiple goals on just four occasions this season, and haven't won any of those matches.
Although that's a fairly depressing statistic, Villa look to be on the verge of turning things around. While it may be too late to escape relegation, there's no reason to throw in the towel just yet. Going four straight games without a loss is a start, and if the club can string together a sequence of wins they could get back into the hunt for survival.
It's always fair to expect a disciplined performance from a Tony Pulis side. West Brom will be well-drilled, albeit boring, but what Villa fan wouldn't trade safety for the monotony of eking out 1-0 wins?
For Rémi Garde's team to pull off the improbable, it will take improved performances from everyone in the team. Mark Bunn looks to have made the starting goalkeeper spot his, and Aly Cissokho has cemented himself as the left back since returning from loan. If Micah Richards plays at right back, we could see a return to the Jores Okore-Ciaran Clark centre back partnership that showed so much promise towards the end of last season.
One area that's really starting to come together nicely is the midfield. Jordan Veretout and Idrissa Gana have finally found their footing and are beginning to look like very astute signings. Ashley Westwood needs to be that metronome that makes the team tick, dictating play from the base of midfield. If Villa can dominate possession, it makes the job of the defenders that much easier.
Up top, it looks like Libor Kozák will get another chance to lead the line. Jordan Ayew is the best player Villa have right now, and they'll need his attacking impetus to get things going. It will be interesting to see what he can do against what's likely to be a West Brom backline comprised of four central defenders. Someone who should benefit from this is Carles Gil, who could get the nod on the right wing. His intricate passing skills will be needed as Villa look to carve up a Baggies back four with a projected average age of 30. While they may have seen it all and know what to anticipate, the pace in Villa's team could possibly overwhelm their old legs.
Although Saido Berahino has played the eighth-least minutes for West Brom after requesting a summer transfer, he's still tied for the lead in the club's score charts with three goals on the year. Rumours that he could wind up at Chelsea could serve to distract him, but even so Pulis has another dangerous striker in the form of Salomón Rondóń. If Pulis sticks with his trusty 4-4-2, having Carles Gil tuck in could allow for more possession.
Aston Villa (4-3-3): Mark Bunn; Micah Richards, Jores Okore, Ciaran Clark, Aly Cissokho; Jordan Veretout, Ashley Westwood, Idrissa Gana; Carles Gil, Libor Kozák, Jordan Ayew.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Boaz Myhill; Craig Dawson, Gareth McAuley, Jonny Evans, Chris Brunt; Stéphane Sessegnon, Darren Fletcher, Claudio Yacob, James McClean; Saido Berahino, Salomón Rondón.
Who would you start in the Derby if you were Rémi Garde? Let us know in the comments!
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