Today - a game between two mid-table sides who have both been struggling for any kind of form recently do battle at The Bet365 Stadium. After speaking to some Stoke fans this week, please don’t expect a thriller.
Speaking at his press conference on Friday, Aston Villa boss Dean Smith pointed to Brentford FC as an example of how a team’s fortunes can turn around.
‘Just look at Brentford for example, they had a really poor run of results and now they are on a decent run (they have lost just the once since late December having only won six games all season up until that point) and are playing well’
Smith is correct, of course, but Brentford still sit in 16th position just a place above Villa’s opponents today.
Smith added in regards to Saturdays game that ‘both teams are scrapping to get wins but we have had a good week on the training ground’. All good to hear and he is definitely right on the first part of the quote. We can only hope the second part is true. With Villa having won only once in the last five away games let’s hope Saturday is the start of a winning run.
Form Guide & Probable Lineups:
Stoke City last 6 games- W1 D3 L2
Aston Villa last 6 games- W1 D2 L3
Judging by the form guide above it’s clear what Smith means in that both sides will indeed be scrapping for the points on Saturday. Another week and another team who seem to have very similar records to Villa and with our remaining fixtures we may well see more and more sides with form like ours. That’s what the Championship is all about and why scrapping and giving everything for every point is so vital. Something which Villa fans have maybe not seen enough of lately.
Saturday’s game will come too soon for Jack Grealish, but Smith said on Friday he is out on the grass and training with the squad and should be involved very soon. Tom Carroll is another player Villa so desperately need in the centre of midfield but like Grealish the Stoke game comes far too quickly in his recovery, but he should be fit for the home game against Derby next Saturday. Villa keeper Lovre Kalinic has been undergoing the concussion protocols set by the EFL and Smith said they will assess him as late as possible but I would expect him to be named on the team sheet in the starting eleven. If not then Jed Steer will deputise after his recent loan spell at Charlton.
The major loss for Villa is of course John McGinn who serves the first game of his two game ban for accumulating ten yellow cards this season and this leaves Dean Smith in a dilemma in terms of who replaces him in the centre of midfield.
Probable Starting XI:
The loss of McGinn (should) mean a change of shape for Aston Villa with them abandoning the usual 4-1-4-1 formation and going to a 4-4-2. With no McGinn, Grealish, or Carroll available now is the time to try to implement a different strategy. Going to a 4-4-2 isn’t risky against this Stoke side, it’s away from home so very little discontent will be heard to influence the players and bringing in Jedinak or Bjarnason is too much a defensive move especially alongside Whelan who shouldn’t need any extra motivation against his former employers.
Stoke have two very physical centre backs in ex-Wolves man Danny Batth and Bruno Martins Indi. Tammy Abraham, although he is more than capable, will need some kind of assistance if he is to compete against the Stoke pair. Jonathan Kodjia should come in to the team to pair with Abraham in a front two with the former dropping a bit deeper when Villa are defending.
I would expect Green to continue down the left mainly due to Kodjia’s inclusion upfront and Adomah to come in for El Mohamady wide right possibly due to reasons aimed at the transitions from defense to attack for Villa although Smith may go for the defensive attributes of the Egyptian.
Ask a Stoke fan: “How would you describe you teams playing style?” Most can’t - yet. Here is my take on what I have seen.
After taking over the reigns in January, Stoke boss Nathan Jones tried to play a diamond in midfield but this was soon abandoned for the more orthodox 4-3-3.
Stoke have a short passing game and like to play out from the back when they can. Gradually working the ball into wide areas and trying to isolate their opponents full backs with balls then played into Allen and Etebo who underlap with runs into the edges of the penalty area. Then they play cut-back balls towards the penalty spot areas for others to finish. Thomas Edwards at right back, Sam Clucas at left back and Tom Ince and James McClean in the wide attacking positions in front of the full back pairing means Stoke now have the ability to deliver quality crosses with both full backs having this in their locker. Basically Stoke have four players who can deliver these balls in and with the recent addition of centre forward Sam Vokes this could well mean a slight change of attacking style for Stoke something the Villa back four need to be aware of. Villa need to be better when defending counter attacks, that much is obvious, but also set pieces. Although in fairness both Villa and Stoke have weaknesses in that area.
Some key battles to look out for - Batth v Abraham, Allen v Whelan, Hutton v Clucas.
In regards to defence, Stoke tend to revert to a 4-5-1 when defending, then attempt to play on the counter when possible. If Villa can manage to draw Stoke onto them they could have some success doing much the same. This is why I think the inclusion of Kodjia is important because if Whelan and Hourihane can recycle the ball deep in midfield and release Abraham, Kodjia, Adomah and Green, this can create a counter-attacking opportunity.
It is imperative that Green and Adomah do as much to push the Stoke full backs as far back in their own half as possible or else Kortney Hause and Alan Hutton could get overloaded and we all saw how that panned out against West Brom.
Don’t expect a load of goals as this will probably be a game of few clear cut chances and Dean Smith will want to stop the run of poor performances more than anything. I think a point will be the outcome with a low scoring draw. Set pieces will form a large part of the chances I would imagine with Villa having some success but also not being able to defend them as well as they used to with Stoke being much the same.