Aston Villa welcome Crystal Palace to Villa Park on Boxing day as the busy Christmas period gets into full swing. Both teams were beaten on Saturday and at this important time of the season; both managers will see this as a game to pick up some points. Villa have lost their last three league games, and another loss against Palace could see them slip further down the table. The Eagles fortunes have improved under Tony Pulis, but they have lost their last two games, albeit against Chelsea and Newcastle. This makes the game a must win for both sides.
Aston Villa have a few injury concerns for the game. Striker Christian Benteke (Knee) will miss the game. Villa also have long term absentees in Charles N’Zogbia (Calf), Jores Okore (Knee) and Joe Bennett (Back). Captain Ron Vlaar should return to the squad. Palace have a number of injuries going into the game. Glen Murray (Knee), Paddy McCarthy (Groin), Jack Hunt (Ankle) have all been out since the beginning of the season, and return dates are not yet set. Midfielder Adlene Guedioura (Ribs) won’t be back until the New Year, whilst Jerome Thomas (Calf) is still out. Stuart O’Keefe and Kagisho Dikgacoi should return to the squad.
The teams have not met in the Premier League for eight years. Their last meeting came around the Christmas period in the 2004/05 season with Palace winning 2-0. The last meeting at Villa Park ended in a 1-1 draw. The two teams’ record against each other in the Premier League is equal, with two wins, two losses and four draws between them. Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni is the only survivor from the last Premier League meeting between the two where he was an unused sub. Villa have only managed one goal in their last three games and they have only kept one clean sheet in their last seven games. Crystal Palace have scored more goals in December (4) than they managed in the whole of October and November.
Libor Kozak arrived in the summer from Lazio with little fanfare. With most of the attention on Christian Benteke, Kozak was seen as a deputy at best. However, with Benteke’s season being hampered by injury and a loss of form, Kozak has played a more prominent role than some would have expected. Kozak has scored four goals this season, including one in his last game against Stoke City. He has had an impressive shot accuracy of 78% and a chance conversion rate of 44%. Despite not being a regular starter, he currently has a goal every 169 minutes, which is one in every two. With Villa’s other strikers struggling, Kozak’s form and goals could be important for Villa manager Paul Lambert in the Christmas period.
Joel Ward has had a steady season for the Eagles this season. He has started all of the games he has been fit for this season, showing how important he has been for Ian Holloway and now Tony Pulis. He has won the most tackles of any Palace player with 58 and has also won the most ground duels with 93. Other than Mile Jedinak, Ward has made the most passes for Palace with 521 as he is often the player used to start moves for the Eagles. His versatility has meant he has played at right back, left back and central midfield this season. If he plays at right back, he could be tasked with keeping Gabriel Agbonlahor quiet. This will be important in stopping Villa, so Ward will definitely play an important role for the Eagles.
There is no doubt this is an important game for both clubs. It is also a game that both teams will see as winnable. Villa will be attempting to come out of the slump they currently find themselves in. There will be no better game than to change their fortunes than a Boxing Day fixture to give them momentum for the rest of the Christmas period. Tony Pulis will want to get a good result before Palace travel to Manchester City in a game they will not be expected to get anything out of. I predict a 1-1 draw for this one.