Goalkeeper: Jason Steele
I have to say, I was surprised that Chris Coleman switched his goalkeeper on Saturday. Not for the fact he made the change - we clearly have been through the range of options this season - but for the fact that Jason Steele was recalled.
Now, I’m not saying Lee Camp did anything to deserve his place. His performances since arriving on loan have, let’s be honest, been woeful. But Steele was as bad, if not worse, before he lost his place to Robbin Ruiter earlier in the season. Add to the fact that he was on the verge of leaving the club in January with the best wishes of all at Sunderland AFC, so to see his name on Saturday was a shock.
And yet... he didn’t play all that badly. Comparatively speaking, of course. Only a single goal conceded is a huge positive, such has been our inability to keep the ball out of our net this season.
His performance gives him the right to retain the shirt tonight.
Defenders: Matthews, Kone, O’Shea, Browning, Oviedo
Are we going to change anything here? I very much doubt it.
The defence rallied round Steele and, if they continue to fight for him and each other, we may even see a clean sheet or two before the season ends. That display and spirit would, I think, allow Coleman the luxury of naming an unchanged back line.
The only thing to point out is that the defence need to be at it for 90 minutes against a good Villa side. We also may have to contend with one Lewis Grabban, but if shutting out our former striker is not enough motivation, I can’t imagine what is.
Bryan Oviedo’s display at The Den - and his well-taken goal - was the pick of the bunch on Saturday. Tonight he’ll need to maintain that level. I suspect others will need to work a little harder against Villa - Adam Matthews, perhaps, whilst Lamine Kone needs to maintain a level of performance throughout the 90 minutes, and Tyias Browning needs to remove some of the rustiness he showed against Millwall.
It will be another huge test and one we have to stand up to if we are to gain anything tonight.
Midfielders: Cattermole, Ejaria, McGeady, McManaman
This will be an interesting one. Will Coleman stick or twist?
If he has it in mind to change it, what did the midfield do on Saturday to suggest that should be the case? In the first half, I thought both McManaman and McGeady brought something to the party and we played well with four across the midfield. Ejaria found space and drove us on, whilst Cattermole sat. There was good balance and a fair amount of hard work on show.
Perhaps the second half would be cause to reflect. Tired legs and a change of tactics meant the midfield were not as effective following the break. But can that be laid at the feet of the four mentioned? It did seem odd that we stopped using Ejaria and McGeady in particular and tried to lump the ball forward from defence. Replacing McManaman for Asoro to support the attack equally changed the flow and usefulness of operating through the midfield.
If Coleman did mix it up, who could come in? LuaLua, maybe, or Honeyman? Or could we revert to a midfield three and release a second striker?
Villa tend to play with four across the midfield, as Millwall did on Saturday. They tend to use width and get goals from their midfield, so we need to work hard to track runs and compete in the middle.
I’ll suggest Coleman keeps faith with his midfield in a bid to match them, like-for-like.
Attacker: Joel Asoro
If there is a change, I’d suggest it’s in front of goal.
Ashley Fletcher is struggling. I thought his performance at Bolton was commendable, if not his finishing. He had chances and on another day may have got on the scoresheet - yet his return at Millwall did little to warrant his inclusion. The game seemed to pass him by and, as a sole striker, he offered little in way of holding up play or winning aerial battles.
I don’t think Josh Maja is any better at being the lone forward. The lad is a tremendous talent, but pitching him against the experience and guile of John Terry will be a tough ask for someone who’s game is predicated on having a partner.
Joel Asoro has pace and ability and is perhaps our best option. Having handled him well on Saturday, I trust Coleman has seen that the young Swede has fully recovered from the knock he took against Boro. His pace caused Michael Dawson all sorts of problems when we beat Hull and perhaps that strength will give the likes of Terry and James Chester something to think about.
Finally, Asoro’s work-rate will be vital in stopping Villa from having free reign to build from the back and, if we can provide support from midfield and press high, we may capitalise on any mistakes.
It’s a big home game requiring a big team selection from Chris Coleman. Ideally, we need to win but, realistically, a point against Steve Bruce’s Villa to match those gained against fellow play-off hopefuls Bristol City and Middlesbrough will be vital.