MX23RW : Tuesday, July 27 20:58:03| >> :600:211275:211275:
Feb 27, 2016 at 3pm UK at bet365 Stadium
StokeStoke City
2-1
Aston Villa
Arnautovic (51' pen., 56')
FT(HT: 0-0)
Bacuna (79')

Preview: Stoke City vs. Aston Villa

Sports Mole previews Saturday's Premier League clash between Stoke City and Aston Villa at the Britannia.

Stoke City will attempt to boost their chances of a top-half finish in the Premier League when they welcome basement side Aston Villa to the Britannia on Saturday.

A total of 36 points has left Stoke in 10th, just four points off the top seven, but Villa remain rooted to the bottom on 16 points having only recorded all the points in three of their 26 league matches this term.


Stoke

Mark Hughes pulls faces during the Premier League game between Bournemouth and Stoke City on February 13, 2016© Getty Images

A solid campaign to date has left the Potters in 10th position in the table, but they have actually only won one of their last five in the league. That victory came away to Bournemouth last time out, however, and Mark Hughes will have had two weeks to prepare for this match by the time that kickoff rolls around on Saturday afternoon.

Stoke's record from 26 league games this season reads won 10, drawn six and lost 10. They have actually only won one fewer league match than Manchester United this season, but 10 defeats have harmed their chances of pushing for a European finish. A four-game winless run between January 17 and February 6 threatened to undo some of their excellent work this season, but a win last time out has kept them in a favourable spot in the table.

Indeed, Stoke's tally of 36 points at this stage is their joint-highest after 26 Premier League matches, matching last season. There is no question that Hughes will see his team's next two games - this one and Newcastle United at home - as winnable fixtures and victories in both could well see the Potters in a Europa League position.

Goals have been a problem throughout the season, however, with Stoke failing to score in 11 of their Premier League matches, which is actually the same number as Villa. The Potters have won four of their last five league meetings against their opponents on Saturday though and will be confident of putting another victory on the board.

Hughes managed to lead Stoke to ninth in the table last season, but the board will expect improvement after the increase in transfer funds that have been made available. The style of the team is very different to that under Tony Pulis, but the Potters do look on course to post their best-ever Premier League finish.

Recent form: WDLLLW
Recent form (all competitions): LLLLLW


Villa

Remi Garde is perpetually baffled during the Premier League game between West Ham and Aston Villa on February 2, 2016© Getty Images

The phrase last-chance saloon comes to mind when previewing this match, but in truth, that ship has probably already sailed. There are still 12 Premier League matches to play this season, but Villa are rooted to the bottom on 16 points, some eight points behind the safety of 17th-placed Norwich City.

There was a hint of a revival under Remi Garde between January 12 and February 6. The supporters started to believe during a run that included wins over Crystal Palace and Norwich City, and draws with West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City. There were signs of life, but it all came crashing down at home to Liverpool last time out, when they were thumped 6-0.

History is also not on Villa's side as they battle to remain in the division. Indeed, no team with 16 points or fewer at this stage of a Premier League season has ever finished higher than bottom. They have only won three of their 26 league games this season, which makes an upturn in form in the final months even more unlikely for the club's suffering supporters.

There has been tension between the supporters and players throughout the season and Garde has been unable to change Villa's fortunes after replacing Tim Sherwood earlier in the campaign. The Villans have actually only won once on their travels in the league this season and that came at Bournemouth on the opening weekend.

They are also the league's lowest scorers on 20 goals and have taken just four points from their 13 matches against the current top 10 in the table. Meanwhile, Garde's comments in his pre-match press conference, which suggested that there are members of his squad that are 'not committed', is hardly the ideal preparation for this match. Football has a funny way of throwing up surprises, however, and victory here could well be the start of a sensational upturn.

Recent form: WDDLWL
Recent form (all competitions): WDLLWL


Team News

Ryan Shawcross of Stoke City during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Stoke City at St James' Park on October 31, 2015 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. © Getty Images

Stoke will still be without their captain and key centre-back Ryan Shawcross, who ruled himself out on Thursday as he continues to struggle with a back problem. Marc Muniesa and Phil Bardsley, meanwhile, will face late fitness tests.

Geoff Cameron is also expected to miss out, leaving Hughes desperately short of options at the back. However, Marko Arnautovic has recovered from the illness that kept him out of the Bournemouth match and Glen Johnson should also start.

As for Villa, Gabriel Agbonlahor has recovered from a slight illness, while Rudy Gestede is available after missing the last four matches with a hamstring problem.

Gestede's recovery has come at a key time as Villa remain without attackers Libor Kozak and Adama Traore with ankle and foot injuries respectively. Alan Hutton is also pushing for a recall at full-back as Garde looks to shuffle his pack.

Stoke possible starting lineup:
Butland; Johnson, Wollscheid, Muniesa, Pieters; Whelan, Imbula; Shaqiri, Afellay, Arnautovic; Walters

Villa possible starting lineup:
Bunn; Richards, Okore, Lescott, Hutton; Richardson, Gueye, Westwood, Bacuna; Gil, Gestede


Head To Head

Stoke have won four and lost just one of their last five Premier League games against Villa, but the strugglers did record a 1-0 victory at the Britannia in the league last season.

Indeed, Villa will enter this match attempting to make it back-to-back league wins at Stoke for the first time since 1906.

It was Stoke that came out on top in the league at Villa Park earlier this season, however, courtesy of a second-half effort from Arnautovic.


Sports Mole Logo

We say: Stoke 2-0 Villa

Stoke are currently struggling with injuries in a defensive area, but Hughes has plenty of options in the final third of the field and his team should have more than enough for Villa this weekend.

Draws are not good enough for Villa at this stage and their style of football should play into the hands of the hosts. We are backing a comfortable routine three points for the Potters.



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Mark 'Bah Humbug' Hughes watches on during the game between Manchester United and Stoke City on December 26, 2015
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