West Bromwich Albion make the short trip to Villa Park on Wednesday night to take on Aston Villa in a Midlands derby. The two teams find themselves separated by only two points but three league places, with Villa in 11th with 24 points and West Brom in 13th with 22. Both teams going into the game on the back of a draw and a loss in their last two fixtures. A win for either team will do them the world of good, moving them away from the relegation zone. Villa have only won one game in their last eight, and there is no better game than a derby to improve that statistic. The Baggies gained a credible drew with Everton last time out in new manager Pepe Mel’s first game. They have an even worse record going into the game, with only one win in their last twelve league games. They will hope that Mel will be able to bring some organisation and change their fortunes.
Aston Villa are without a number of players for the game. Villa’s long term injuries are Jores Okore (Knee), Charles N’Zogbia (Calf) and Libor Kozak (Broken leg) all who are out indefinitely. A number of players should be fit to return to Villa’s squad including Chris Herd, Nathan Baker and Joe Bennett. Gabriel Agbonlahor faces a late fitness test after suffering from an ankle injury. West Brom have only one main injury concern going into the game. Defender Gareth McAuley is out with a hamstring injury. Goran Popov should be fit enough to return to the squad if selected. West Brom have made no indication as of yet if Nicolas Anelka will start the game, despite him being linked with a move to Lazio.
When the two sides met earlier on the season, Villa fought back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at the Hawthorns. Shane Long was on target twice for the Baggies that day, but he has since left the club and joined Hull City. The last four Premier League fixtures between the two clubs have ended in a draw. The last time the fixture didn’t end in a draw, West Brom won 2-1 in October 2011 with goals from Paul Scharner and Jonas Olsson. Before April 2009, Aston Villa were undefeated in all nine of their previous Premier League meetings with West Brom. Neither team has managed to score more than two goals in this fixture during the Premier League era. West Brom have only won at Villa Park once in the Premier League era.
Christian Benteke’s second season in the Premier League has not gone as well as he would have hoped. After a good start the season scoring four in four games, Benteke did not manage a goal until he netted against Arsenal this month. This meant that the Belgian had not scored in four months, a period that was also hampered by injury. The turn of the year seems to a have brought a change in Benteke’s fortunes, and he has managed two goals in his last two games. Against Liverpool, Benteke showed the clinical nature he once had may be returning, as he scored his only chance of the game. A good run of games for Benteke could be important in getting Villa further away from the relegation zone and guarantee their Premier League safety.
Jonas Olsson has been a defensive stalwart for the Baggies in recent years. The defender has made the joint most appearances for West Brom this season with twenty. In terms of his defending, he has made the most successful clearances with 205, and he has also made the most successful headed clearances with 121. It is clear that he is a vital part of the team and will remain so under new manager Pepe Mel. Olsson will be tasked with keeping Christian Benteke quiet for 90 minutes. Olsson will also be a threat going forward at set pieces. The last and only time the Baggies have won at Villa Park, Olsson was on the score sheet. He will hope he will be able to inspire his team to a win both defensively and going forward.
It is hard to see any other result that a draw in this game based on the previous four fixtures. Although a win would be good for both teams, both teams would also be happy with a draw. A derby always brings a tense atmosphere to a fixture, and both teams have to remember to play the game and not the occasion. Pepe Mel has had a week to get his players up to speed with the way he wants to play, but it may not be long enough to see a real change in their style of play. Paul Lambert will want his team to build on their excellent draw with Liverpool in their last fixture, and they will go into the game with confidence. A 1-1 draw is my prediction for this one.