@0riginalfooty takes a look at this midweek fixture between two clubs fighting for their lives at the bottom of the Premier League table. Last time out we got five out of ten predictions right and one correct score. Will we do better this week?
Villa Park – Tuesday (19:45)
Games don’t come much bigger than this. Two relegation-threatened sides with three points separating them. One in the relegation zone, the other hovering dangerously above it. But this isn’t just a traditional relegation six-pointer, it’s a fixture riddled with sub-plots. This is a clash between two great friends, a battle between one of the league’s best strikers this season against one who has returned to form and a scrap for two sides desperate to feed on the succulent financial teat that is the Premier League’s TV deal.
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood takes on his former assistant coach, close friend and current QPR manager Chris Ramsey. The two have spoken fondly of each other prior to the match and say they speak at least once a week on the phone but this is the sort of fixture that can tear friendships apart.
“This is without doubt the biggest game of the season for Villa and possibly one of the biggest in a number of years and this is the biggest of my managerial career,” said Sherwood.
There are few who would argue with him. The former Tottenham Hotspur boss got off to a poor start at Villa with narrow defeats to Stoke and Newcastle, the latter being a particularly disappointing result, before renewing optimism and belief as they beat bitter rivals West Brom and smashed relegation rivals Sunderland 4-0. However, that belief is facing a severe test now as an important home game against Swansea became a loss and was followed by a routine defeat to Manchester United.
It may sound melodramatic to some to describe tonight’s match as must-win when there are seven matches to play but Villa’s fixture list justifies the claim. Following tonight’s game there are trips to Spurs and Man City, home matches against Everton and West Ham, an away day at Southampton and finally the crucial last day of the season clash with Burnley. The match against fast-sinking West Ham now looks winnable and there is no question they must beat Burnley but the other fixtures look tough to even earn a draw in. Villa simply must win tonight.
QPR’s fixture list is also treacherous. They face Chelsea, Liverpool and Man City in their last six games but also have winnable fixtures at home to West Ham and Newcastle before a final away trip to bottom side Leicester – could the fixture generator cough up more cutthroat final day clashes?
The R’s looked down-and-out before they thumped Tony Pulis’ West Brom 4-1 in the Midlands this weekend. That was possibly the worst possible result for Villa in a weekend where every side in the relegation battle picked up at least a point, besides them and Hull.
I predicted at the start of the season that both of these teams would survive and I still believe they both could, but it is far more probable that at least one of them will face the drop. Whichever team survives will probably have one of their star forwards to thank. QPR’s Charlie Austin has had a brilliant season and has an outside chance of finishing as top scorer in the league. He currently has 16 goals and has already scored against Villa this season in the 2-0 win at Loftus Road.
Villa’s own talisman Christian Benteke has endured a frustrating campaign that included working his way back from injury but he has scored four in his last four matches in all competitions and there is a feeling that he could be returning to form at just the right time. Whoever comes out on top tonight could keep their side in the top flight.
Both sides have fresh injury worries with Alan Hutton set to miss the fixture with an ankle problem while QPR have also added Eduardo Vargos and Yun Suk-young to the injury table. For Villa, Aly Cissokho could return along with Philippe Senderos, Kieran Richardson and Tom Cleverley.
Regardless of everything else, all that matters come kick-off is who wins on the pitch. This could go either way but I fancy Villa to come up with the goods when it matters the most. They have been in a relegation battle for the last four years and always seem to have a season-defining fixture around this time of year where they beat one of their rivals convincingly. If they don’t win tonight then I believe they will be relegated but QPR could still survive even with a loss. Sherwood to win this battle of the best friends.
Prediction: Villa 3-1 QPR