How can Aston Villa cope without Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood?
Aston Villa, 6/1 shots with Coral to be relegated this season, have a major problem on their hands. Both of their first-choice deep-lying midfielders Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood could miss their busy festive fixture list through injury.
This leaves a gaping hole in Paul Lambert’s engine room, so how does he plug it? The prognosis on Delph is better than Westwood, who strained medial ligaments in his knee and will miss up to a month, essentially ruling him out until the New Year.
England international Delph could return to action for Villa just before Christmas, though, having needed surgery on a shoulder injury. In the meantime, the West Midlands outfit are short of bodies for their derby at The Hawthorns.
With Joe Cole also out with a hamstring problem, Colombia anchorman Carlos Sanchez and Tom Cleverley will start by default. Lambert has consistently picked a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation, so he is now faced with either changing shape or finding alternative options to suit his preferred tactics.
Including Australia international utility man Chris Herd as a holding player alongside Sanchez might free Manchester United loanee Cleverley up to support the attack, and he needs to improve no goals or assists. For better balance in midfield, using left-footer Kieran Richardson in the middle could be tried too.
Lambert may be better suited by using the en vogue 4-2-3-1 set-up, though, with a genuine attacking midfielder supporting lone striker Christian Benteke, with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor on the flanks. Villa are the joint-lowest scorers in the Premier League, alongside Burnley, with 10, and this may be the tactical nuance needed to change that.
Necessity is the mother of invention, so the supporting role could go to Charles N’Zogbia but, if Lambert was really bold he might try blooding talented prospect Jack Grealish. The Birmingham-born teenager is eligible to represent both England and the Republic of Ireland at international level, but is yet to start a Premier League game.
It will not surprise punters to learn Villa are 13/5 outsiders to beat local rivals West Bromwich Albion in their next outing, and Lambert faces some big decisions ahead of that derby day.