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    Aston Villa v Stoke City Preview

    by Conall Green

    Aston Villa host Stoke City at 3pm at Villa Park on Saturday, a clash of two sides that have struggled in the Premier League so far this season.
    Villa have dropped into the relegation zone after losing 3-2 at Anfield last weekend, sitting in 18th spot after taking only 4 points from 7 games.
    The Potters sit only one place above the Villans on 6 points, but should approach the game with renewed confidence, having followed up a League Cup win at Championship side Fulham with their first Premier League victory of the season at home to Bournemouth last Saturday.
    Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood will have to work with a similar squad to recent weeks as his injured players continue to recuperate. Spanish right back Jorge Angel Crespo is still missing with a knee injury, while fellow Iberian, Portuguese defender Tiago Ilori is still gaining match fitness in the reserves. Jores Okore will not be risked this weekend, despite coming through 90 minutes against West Brom under-21s earlier in the week.
    In attack, Gabriel Agbonlahor is still struggling with a calf injury, but Sherwood hopes he will be available to play some part if required. Exciting winger Adama Traore, signed from Barcelona this summer, will not play any part after struggling in an under 21 fixture, with Sherwood saying: "We can't take any risks with Adama. We need to make sure he's right."
    Battering ram centre forward, Rudy Gestede, will hope to continue in the starting line up after three goals in his last two games, including a brace at Anfield last weekend. Jack Grealish, who finally decided his international allegiance this week, should start after being in fine form in recent weeks.
    Sherwood is confident in his newly assembled squad, saying that it is too early to talk about a relegation battle, and that he is confident his side will be ok this season.
    For Stoke City, ex-Bayern Munich and Inter Milan midfielder, Xerdan Shaqiri, is unlikely to be available for Mark Hughes' side, having been forced off against Bournemouth with a thigh strain. Irish defender Marc Wilson could play after a recent calf injury meant he missed the previous game. Fellow centre back and club captain Ryan Shawcross will again miss out, having been missing so far this season after undergoing back surgery in the summer. Hughes will hope to have the commanding defender back in the coming weeks, as he has played an integral role in Stoke City’s success since joining from Manchester United.
    Another former United player, Mame Biram Diouf, will hope he has done enough to be restored to the starting XI, after coming off the bench to head the winner on his return from injury last weekend. It was the Senegalese striker’s third Premier League goal of the season, and he looks on course to better his best Premier League tally of 12 goals, set last season. Ibrahim Afellay is another who could be set for a recall, after playing 37 minutes as a substitute last weekend. The pacey Dutch winger will want to force his way back into a starting position after missing two games through suspension after being sent off against West Brom.
    I expect a closely fought affair at Villa Park, with both managers acutely aware of the need to accumulate points sooner rather than later as the season progresses. Both clubs have been guilty of underperforming so far this season, and both squads should have enough quality to avoid becoming embroiled in a relegation battle, with Mark Hughes in particular having some high calibre footballers at his disposal.
    For those who enjoy a wager, the bookmakers have the home side as favourites, with Villa priced at 6/4. The Potters are available at 2/1, and the odds on the draw are 9/4. If you think Rudy Gestede will continue his hot streak, you can back him to score at any time at 6/4, with his Stoke counterpart Diouf available at 7/4 to find the net in 90 minutes.
    Prediction: Aston Villa 1-1 Stoke City. A tight game with nothing to separate the two teams.

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    Item Reviewed: Aston Villa v Stoke City Preview Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Conall Green
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