Stoke picked up a long overdue win against Bournemouth in their last Premier League outing, and will be confident of making it two in two against an increasingly doomed looking Aston Villa.
New club-record signing Giannelli Imbula notched his first goal for the club at the Vitality Stadium as the Potters rediscovered their attacking flair after four games without a goal.
Mark Hughes’ side sit just five points off a European spot, and with 12 games still to play, they will fancy their chances of mounting a late challenge, particularly if they can string together a strong sequence of results as Southampton have done.
One factor that could hold the Potters back is their goal difference; their total of minus five (-5) is the lowest in the top-half of the table and is not helped by the fact they have scored just over a goal a game; the likes of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautovic need to find their shooting boots if Stoke are to climb the table.
Villa’s 6-0 defeat at home to Liverpool a fortnight ago has all but extinguished any faint hopes that the club can stay in the Premier League past May, with the Midlands club now eight points adrift of safety.
Manager Remi Garde has accused some of his players of lacking commitment in training and matches; something perhaps backed up by Joleon Lescott’s ill-advised tweet in the aftermath of the Liverpool defeat, which the former England international has claimed was accidental.
Villa haven’t won away from home since the opening day and have scored just nine goals on the road all season. However, they have a decent record at Stoke, having won twice in their last three visits to the Britannia.
Ryan Shawcross remains absent for the hosts, who could also be without fellow defenders Geoff Cameron, Marc Muniesa and Glen Johnson, as well as midfielder Charlie Adam.
Rudy Gestede – who scored Villa’s winner in their only away win this season at Bournemouth – returns to the fold for the visitors; but Adama Traore, Jack Grealish, Libor Kozak and Carlos Sanchez are all out.
League Positions: Stoke – 10th (36 pts); Aston Villa – 20th (16 pts)
Previous Meeting: Aston Villa 0-1 Stoke – October 3, 2015
League Form: Stoke – WDLLLW; Aston Villa – WDDLWL
Key Players: Stoke – Bojan; Aston Villa – Jordan Ayew
Shoot Says: Stoke 3-0 Aston Villa