Aston Villa will look to halt a run of four consecutive Premier League defeats this weekend as they take on fellow Midlands outfit Stoke City at Villa Park.
After winning their opening game of the season, Villa have picked up just one point from their last six matches and alarm bells are ringing, with their defence, especially, coming under too much pressure.
Stoke haven’t exactly fared much better, yet the Potters head into the clash coming off the back of a victory over Bournemouth, and it’s a game Villa simply cannot afford to lose.
With 12 goals conceded in their last six league matches, Villa’s defence is a cause for concern, although individually there is plenty of quality there.
Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott are a solid centre-back partnership, boasting plenty of strength, power, athleticism and speed, among other qualities.
Stoke have improved immensely under Mark Hughes in terms of eye-catching football, yet they still pose a physical, direct threat and Villa’s centre-back duo should be in good shape to counter that.
Alan Hutton and Jordan Amavi ought to retain their places in the full-back areas, with the latter an imposing threat going forward due to his excellent ball control and dribbling ability.
Midfield and attack:
This is where Villa need to tighten up and become more compact, and sacrifices in regards to flair players should be made in order to help out and protect their back five.
Idrissa Gueye and Ashley Westwood are very capable in the midfield, though the addition of Carlos Sanchez should give Sherwood’s men more bite and balance.
Out wide, Villa ought to opt for pace and energy in order to really hurt Stoke and dropping Jack Grealish, as controversial as it may seem, could restore more balance.
In Scott Sinclair and Carlos Gil, the West Midlands outfit have a nice blend there, and through Rudy Gestede they have arguably the best centre-forward in terms of aerial threat in the division.
The former Blackburn Rovers man’s inclusion is not only important as a genuine goal threat, but he’s also an excellent player to have when defending set-pieces against organised teams such as Stoke.