Another distinctly average performance against West Ham United last weekend saw Aston Villa pick up another point in the Premier League. Paul Lambert's men now sit 13th in the table, with 11 points from their first 10 games, and host Cardiff City on Saturday.
Villa were missing a few key players for the West Ham clash, which forced Lambert into shuffling both his formation and his starting XI. And, although the claret and blues were able to keep their third clean sheet of the season, they looked very disjointed and lacked a cohesion so desperately needed to find the back of the net.
With a similar injury list ahead of the Cardiff visit, Villa are likely to line up like this:
GK. Brad Guzan
Brad Guzan kept his third clean sheet of the season during the goalless draw with West Ham; though in truth, he wasn't called into action all that often
The Hammers played without a recognised striker on the pitch, and it showed. Guzan didn't put a foot wrong and will remain in goal.
RB. Matthew Lowton
Matt Lowton had been out of the picture for a while following a poor start to the season but was called into action last weekend due to a number of injuries throughout the squad.
The former Sheffield United full-back had been replaced by Leandro Bacuna but did what was required of him against West Ham. He will keep his place in the side this weekend.
CB. Nathan Baker
Nathan Baker has had a solid start to the season and looks to be forming quite the partnership with Ron Vlaar at the heart of the Villa defence.
The 22-year-old played in a defensive three alongside Vlaar and Ciaran Clark last weekend, as the visitors opted for a 5-3-2 formation with two wing-backs.
A shift to a 4-4-2 this weekend will see Clark dropped to the bench, with Baker playing alongside the Villa captain.
CB. Ron Vlaar
Villa's captain will, as always, play at centre-half. The Dutchman was one of Villa's brightest players in a poor 2012-13 campaign and has again been a rock in Villa's defence this term.
Cardiff currently sit one place above the relegation zone but come into the match off the back of a huge victory over rivals Swansea. The Bluebirds will be full of confidence, so Vlaar will have to be at his usual brilliant best to keep Cardiff at bay.
LB. Leandro Bacuna
Leandro Bacuna has performed superbly at right-back—a relatively unfamiliar position for the more attacking-minded, right-sided player—but will feature at left-back on Saturday.
First-choice left-back Antonio Luna will miss the fixture through injury as will Joe Bennett, which will see the Dutchman installed in a new, even-more unfamiliar position.
CDM. Karim El Ahmadi
Karim El Ahmadi is slowly, but surely, turning around the opinion of his many doubters. The Moroccan impressed during his first few months at Villa but, then, seemingly lost his way following international duty in the African Cup of Nations.
Lambert has kept the faith with the midfielder—something which now seems to be paying dividends. El Ahmadi has performed well in the Villa midfield this season—a horror show against Newcastle the exception—and will keep his place.
CM. Fabian Delph
Fabian Delph continues to be Villa's star player this season. The all-action midfielder goes from strength-to-strength and is surely not too far away from his first England call
The 23-year-old missed the West Ham clash through illness but looks set to return to Villa's first team. The Birmingham club lacked direction during last week's outing, so the return of Delph should see that right.
CM. Ashley Westwood
Ashley Westwood is certain to start alongside Fabian Delph in the centre of Villa's midfield. The 23-year-old has come on leaps and bounds since his transfer from Crewe Alexandra during the summer of 2012.
Westwood has looked every bit a Premier League player and has made the transition from lower league football look incredibly easy.
He was his usual lively self against West Ham, working tirelessly, marshaling the midfield, and will welcome the return of his partner-in-crime Delph.
CM. Yacouba Sylla
Yacouba Sylla has only featured four times for Villa this season but has impressed whenever he's pulled on the claret and blue shirt.
The Mali international was a key figure in Villa's hugely impressive 3-2 win over Manchester City, using his physical presence to combat the likes of Yaya Toure and Fernandinho. Sylla is usually given the nod when Lambert has had injuries to contend with, but a string of decent performances will see him keep his place in the side.
Christian Benteke hasn't scored since Sept. 14 but remains Villa's top goalscorer. The Belgian's season started off at a frantic pace, with four goals coming in four games before he suffered an injury.
The 22-year-old has looked a little off the pace since his return—epitomised by two missed chances against West Ham last weekend—but will start against Cardiff and will look to add to his goalscoring tally.
ST. Libor Kozak
Libor Kozak is likely to start alongside Benteke as Villa contend with a number of injuries—specifically to their attacking players.
Lambert has admitted that Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann are both doubts ahead of this weekend's fixture, so he will likely opt for last season's Europa League top goalscorer Kozak.
The Czech has netted just the once this season but has struggled to adjust to life in the Premier League. Despite that, Lambert will keep faith with the former Lazio man and hope he can help Villa to a win over the Bluebirds.
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