Ron Vlaar’s suspension for the weekend’s trip to Newcastle United looks set to earn Jores Okore another shot in the Aston Villa line-up and, judging from the stats, that might not be such a bad thing.
Skipper Vlaar was shown his marching orders for two bookable offenses in the 2-1 home defeat to Stoke, with the latter coming in stoppage time as he hauled down Victor Moses in the box, allowing the Nigerian the chance to seal the comeback win from the spot.
The rash challenge seemed to sum up the campaign for the Dutchman, who, since returning from a starring role at the World Cup, has failed to live up to his newfound reputation which has seen numerous top European clubs chasing his signature.
Out of contract in the summer, the centre-back has seen calf and knee problems limit him to just 14 total appearances this season, with Okore and Ciaran Clark building up a strong rapport in the heart of defence while Philippe Senderos and Nathan Baker also nurse injuries.
Returning from a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in preseason which saw him feature just four times during his debut season, Okore started out this term as fifth-choice behind his positional rivals, but since has 16 games under his belt after breaking back into the side for November’s 1-1 draw with Southampton.
The Denmark international’s emergence has earned him widespread praise among the claret and blue faithful in the process, but that wasn’t enough for him to keep his spot upon Vlaar’s return to fitness for the 2-1 FA Cup win over Leicester.
Remaining on the bench for Tim Sherwood’s first game in charge against the Potters, there is, however, a clear argument to make that the emerging stopper has won the right to start over his veteran teammate, even before taking into account the latter’s game-deciding error.
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Okore leads Vlaar in all the main defensive categories, bar just a three per cent gap in tackle success, to suggest that perhaps the Netherlands international hasn't been such a big loss during his time out of the side.
Considering his status as captain, it seems a good bet that Sherwood will reinstate him once his suspension is up, although a starring performance from Okore at St James' Park could well serve to change the ex-Tottenham Hotspur manager's mind.
Defense hasn't been as big an issue as their attacking struggles this season but, with Villa in 19th-place in the Premier League table with 12 games remaining, putting out the strongest XI - one featuring the promising Dane - is the best bet towards achieving top-flight survival.
Considering the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Napoli and Southampton are all interested in Vlaar's services, per the Telegraph, that might seem like a radical move from the outside, but it's one which Clark and Okore have both instigated with their solid form.