Christian Benteke will be out of action for around 6 months with an Achilles tendon injury, inflicted during training on Thursday afternoon. Benteke will now miss the rest of the domestic season and this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, proving both a blow for Villa and Belgium respectively.
This will now provide Lambert with a selection dilemma for the Fulham game and the vital run in to the end of the season:
“It’s a terrible blow both for Christian and for the club. He will miss the rest of the season, obviously, and also the World Cup.”
Villa have maintained a similar line up for the majority of the season with a front three of Agbonlahor, Benteke and Weimann, with Kozak playing a cameo role before his leg break.
With Benteke and Kozak on the long term injury list, Gabby missing Thursday’s training session with illness and Jordan Bowery on loan at Doncaster, what attacking trio will Lambert line up with against bottom of the table Fulham?
We can expect that Lambert will have Marc Albrighton and Andreas Weimann as two thirds of Villa’s attacking trio.
But will we see Weimann pushed into the middle as the main striker? If so, will we see the return of the underperforming Aleksandar Tonev on the wing?
Or will we see the premature return of Gabby because of the lack of, or, unproven talent? Or will Grant Holt make just his second start in claret and blue since his January loan move? Or will Lambert give a chance to academy graduate Callum Robinson?
A lot of questions on the lips of Aston Villa fans
Our opponents, Fulham, will be boosted by the news of Villa’s attacking injuries. However, they haven’t had much luck in the attacking department themselves this season. Since the turn of the year, Dimitar Berbatov has joined Monaco, Darren Bent and Hugo Rodallega have slipped down the pecking order and Kostas Mitroglou has struggled to settle since his January transfer from Olympiakos.
This has seen Magath hand out two debuts to teenagers Cauley Woodrow and Moussa Dembélé (not to be confused with the Spurs midfielder) in his short tenure as Fulham manager.
Despite Bent being unable to play in Saturday’s clash because of his loan move restrictions, would he have played if these restrictions had not been in place? Bent has been in disappointing form, reportedly being unsettled and struggling with fitness, despite him rubbishing these reports.
Talking of players struggling for form, since his magnificent performance to keep Eden Hazard quiet, which is not an easy feat, Leandro Bacuna has showcased why he is not a right back. I’m a huge fan of the Dutchman and he has been a magnificent stand in while doubt has hung over the head of Matthew Lowton.
However, the past two games have shown why he is not a right back. Eight goals conceded in 2 games and giving away a rash penalty at Old Trafford are the prime example.
Me, and I’m presuming a lot of other Villa fans, would rather see Lowton back in at right back and see Bacuna push forward to play on the right side of a middle three, in place of Karim El Ahmadi.
Before these two games, optimism was growing around Villa Park after the results, and the performances, of the 4-1 and 1-0 wins over Norwich and Chelsea respectively. Villa have failed to kick on and there is now a feeling of uncertainty going into the business end of the season.
Back to back 4-1 defeats against rivals Stoke City, and a struggling Manchester United, have put Villa back to square one, when they had the chance to make ground on relegation rivals in the same fashion that Stoke have done.
Prior to the Stoke game, both sides were in the exact same position, of mid-table obscurity on 34 points. Now, two games on, Stoke have hit the ‘magic’ number 40 and are 14 points off the relegation zone essentially guaranteeing safety, something which Lambert will be aiming for.
With 34 points, 7 games to go, struggling with form and star striker Benteke out, Lambert will want to hit the ground running against Fulham. Despite it being widely known that Villa’s home record this season has been notoriously inconsistent, such as losing to Crystal Palace 1-0 on Boxing Day to beating high fliers Chelsea 1-0 midway through March, Fulham could be the perfect team to play.
Although Fulham have Premier League survival to spur them on, along with an arguably easier run in of fixtures compared to other relegation rivals, they have really struggled this season.
Since the turn of the year, Fulham have only one Premier League win to their name, a 1-0 win against Newcastle at home during March. The once usual stable and placid club have had a season of turmoil and misery.
Fulham have seen three managers in one season, there is uncertainty over Magath’s future and rumours of Alan Curbishley taking over at the end of the season, despite only just being recently sacked as technical director, after only just two months in the role.
Ageing and underperforming players, such as John Arne Riise and Scott Parker, coupled with terrible January transfer window signings, has seen Fulham’s misery worsen. Deadline day signings, Larnell Cole and Ryan Tunnicliffe, made by then manager Rene Meulensteen, have already been shipped out on loan by Magath, while £12.4 million club record signing Mitroglou, has failed to score and only made two appearances for the club.
With doubt surrounding both clubs at the moment, one thing for certain is that this will be a fiercely competitive contest with both sides desperate for the three points. Villa have never lost to Fulham at Villa Park in the Premier League, and Lambert will be hoping to extend this run.