Aston Villa face a tough test away at Fulham this weekend, with the bookies making theLondonclub firm favourites to win. Fulham have continued their fine home from last season. So far this campaign they have only lost, narrowly, to champions Manchester City. Only Manchester United have scored more goals than the Cottagers this season and they will be boosted by the return of Berbatov, who has missed the last two games through injury. Of more concern to Martin Jol will be the fact that in their last three league games they have conceded goals after 87 minutes.
Being of most intrigue to Villa fans will be who manager Lambert decides to go with up front. Benteke has only registered one goal for Villa since his summer transfer but, was on fire whilst away on international duty this week. The big Belgian striker scored in both games for his country and will be looking to take that form with him to Villa. Paul Lambert has already stated that he believes Benteke to be more effective than Bent as a lone striker, and playing away from home it may well be the formation that the manager favours. However Villa have struggled for goals so far this season and may feel that it is time to return, natural born goal scorer, Darren Bent into the starting fold. Bent will be eager to prove a point and may fancy his chances against Schwarzer, the Premierships busiest keeper this so far this season making 42 saves.
Villa fans will be pleased to see the return of creative midfielder Stephen Ireland who has recovered from a broken wrist. Joe Bennett is all stitched up after his leg gash so will be available at left back, whereas El Ahmadi has recovered from the cramp which kept him out of Morocco’s game with Zimbabwe. The midfielder has been key for Villa this season, receiving the ball 336 times, more than any of his team mates. The only major injury doubt is Ciaran Clarke. Villa will be hopeful that he is passed fit as he is the 4th highest ranked defender for blocks this season with 10. If he doesn’t start Nathan Baker may fill in.
Recent history suggests that a draw is the most like result in this fixture. Last seasons meeting at Craven Cottage finished 0-0, and 9 of the last 14 meetings between the two clubs has finished in a stalemate. Still I’d like to be optimistic and predict Villa sneaking a 2-1 win.
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