Aston Villa will be hoping to produce some kind of response to their shambles of a performance against Liverpool when they travel to the Britannia Stadium to face mid-table Stoke City.
After a difficult period which saw them suffer three heavy defeats in the league and go out of both domestic cup competitions in quick succession, few seemed to give Stoke much hope of getting a result ahead of their last game away to Bournemouth. But there they served a reminder of their quality, making light of their shortage of numbers in defence and not looking back after new record signing Gianelli Imbula gave them the lead in classy fashion.
Aside from his expertly taken goal, Imbula gave what was possibly an indication of things to come by bossing the midfield throughout and showing a combination of strength, authority and technical ability. It is the kind of presence that the Potters have been crying out for, and with it they can certainly inflict more damage on opposition defences, with Ibrahim Afellay perhaps given more license to come forward, as he did to good effect at Bournemouth.
There are many adjectives – none of them polite – that can describe Villa’s display a fortnight ago, one which rightly left manager Remi Garde embarrassed in the aftermath and in all likelihood put paid to any lingering hopes that they could make a tilt for survival. From the start they were lacking any kind of intensity, to the extent that it seemed almost as if the team were not putting the effort in and simply refusing to compete, especially as the goals were flying in during the second half.
They have had two weeks to look back on it, so this can go one way or another. It will either provoke a rousing response that will catch Stoke somewhat off-guard, or all remaining fight left in the squad will have gone and they will simply roll over. Garde does not appear to be the type of manager to allow the latter to happen, but he has what looks to be a thankless task on his hands. A win is what Villa need, but in the circumstances a draw would be a good result.
Despite a two-week break, Stoke are still without defenders Ryan Shawcross, Marc Muniesa and Marc Wilson, but Geoff Cameron may be fit enough to feature. Marko Arnautovic will return, however.
Gabriel Agbonlahor was forced off against Liverpool but will be able to play here along with Rudy Gestede, who is back from a spell on the sidelines.