The less said about the Crystal Palace match, the better. Moving on to more promising vistas, this week’s match features a winless (in league play) West Ham traveling to Villa Park. Prior to today’s match, the Hammers lost their home opener to Manchester City 2-0, followed that up with a 1-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, and topped it all off with a 2-0 home loss to Graham Potter and Brighton. This is all very much fool’s gold, though. The abysmal record belies the team’s aptitude. Players to look out for include midfielders Tomas Soucek and Declan Rice, along with striker Michail Antonio, who has yet to score a league goal this season — nobody has for West Ham, to be fair.
For Aston Villa this week, there’s the ever familiar question of one or two strikers and what to do with the midfield. My hope is that Gerrard goes back to the 4-4-2 diamond formation as the team generally plays better with it. I’d be curious to see what could be done with a 3-4-1-2 (McGinn and Kamara in midfield with Emi at 10), but the depth at center-back just isn’t there. We’re just as likely to see a 4-3-2-1 Christmas tree — a formation and lineup that looks great on paper, but hasn’t reached potential in practice.
The best guess this week features Emi Martinez in goal with Lucas Digne to the left, Matty Cash to the right, and a presumed partnership of Tyrone Mings and Callum Chambers at center-back. In the midfield is where things could go a number of different directions. Boubacar Kamara seems like the only lock to start, with John McGinn hoping to play his way out of a slump and the third spot to be decided between Douglas Luiz and Jacob Ramsey. I think McGinn likely stays in the starting lineup and you go with Douglas Luiz to keep the momentum the trio had from the 4-1 League Cup win at Bolton on Tuesday. At 10, you can flip a coin between Emi Buendia and Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho started in the Bolton win and while I’d prefer to see Buendia (contradicting myself from earlier, but still), but my hunch is that Gerrard plays Coutinho. Danny Ings and Ollie Watkins will partner at striker, but like so many other people I’d absolutely love to see Cameron Archer get some time on the pitch if given the opportunity.
PREDICTION: This is a match that Villa is capable of winning, but despite the opposition’s record it’s going to be an uphill climb. The Hammers are a formidable bunch and their midfield is something to be paid attention to. With both teams in a bit of a funk, a weird scoreline could pop up. An out of the blue 3-1 Villa win would be fantastic, but I’m leaning more towards a 1-1 draw for Sunday.