Dean Smith’s Aston Villa are in last-16 Carabao Cup action tonight against Championship side Stoke City.
A place in the quarter-finals is up for grabs with the draw for that taking place after the tie between Liverpool and Arsenal.
In the cup to date, Villa have beat Burton Albion and Bristol City with Smith’s second-string simply brilliant at Ashton Gate a week ago.
Regarding potential selection dilemmas, the head coach will look to welcome back fit-again Bjorn Engels after his thigh strain troubles.
The Belgian hasn’t featured in a match-day squad since before lockdown first commenced way back in March at Leicester.
It was Mr Reliable Ahmed Elmohamady who slotted in at centre-back at Bristol last week, partnering Kortney Hause with first-choice Premier League pairing Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa taking a night off.
Given Elmohamady’s display you suspect the 33-year-old will captain Villa once again this week with everyone who started at Fulham being rested ahead of facing off against free-scoring Liverpool on Sunday evening.
There’s just 72 hours between the Stoke and the Liverpool fixture, meaning Smith will have to shuffle his pack once again and could well name the exact same starting XI to the one that comfortably beat Bristol City 3-0.
Out-of-favour Frederic Guilbert did well last week and should get minutes once more at right-back. On the opposite flank, Neil Taylor should slot in at left-back.
In midfield, Jacob Ramsey will look to build on his eye-catching start to life as a first-team player after making his Premier League bow on Monday. The 19-year-old was given a round of applause in the changing room at Fulham after making his big-league debut. Ramsey, of course, starred at Bristol and is nailed-on to start against Stoke on Thursday. He’ll have Henri Lansbury and Marvelous Nakamba in with him in Smith’s midfield. New signing Ross Barkley is cup-tied.
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Up front and, like Ramsey, academy graduate Davis will look to keep up his impressive start in the Carabao Cup. The 22-year-old, fresh from signing a new four-year deal last week, scored at Burton and brilliantly assisted Anwar El Ghazi at Bristol. Davis will lead the line again with Ollie Watkins, if needed, being an option from the bench.
In wide areas, Bertrand Traore ran riot against the Robins last week and scored a nonchalant finish on his debut. The Burkinabe was kept out of the starting XI at Fulham by Trezeguet but, on Thursday, the £19 million signing from Lyon will make his Villa Park debut from the right. On the left, El Ghazi appears to be the favourite to start knowing he sat out of Villa’s win at Fulham. The Dutchman travelled down to the capital but wasn’t required.
Here’s how we think Smith might line up, including a recall to the 18-man squad for forgotten man Engels:
Aston Villa, 4-3-3: Steer; Guilbert, Elmohamady, Hause, Taylor; Nakamba, Ramsey, Lansbury; Traore, Davis, El Ghazi. Subs: Kalinic, Engels, Targett, Hourihane, Douglas Luiz, Trezeguet, Watkins.
Stoke City vs Preston last week, 3-4-1-2: Davies; Chester, Souttar, Fox; Smith, Obi Mikel, Clucas, McClean; Oakley-Boothe; Gregory, Fletcher.