Two sides still very much in the European mix do battle in Tuesday’s Premier League fixture at Villa Park, as Aston Villa welcome Fulham to the West Midlands.
Unai Emery’s men left it late to rescue a point in a 1-1 draw with Brentford on Saturday, while the Cottagers remain on the coat-tails of the top seven thanks to a 2-1 win over Leeds United.
Despite continuing their incredible run of scoring in every game under ex-Arsenal and Villarreal boss Emery, Villa were not at the races for large portions of their contest with Brentford, whose talisman Ivan Toney struck his 19th goal of the campaign to put the Bees ahead at the Gtech Community Stadium.
The hitherto red-hot Ollie Watkins endured a fruitless afternoon at his old stomping ground, but with 87 minutes on the clock, a well-taken strike from Douglas Luiz denied Brentford all three points in front of their own fans and extended Villa’s unbeaten run to nine top-flight games.
Having failed in their bid to make it six Premier League wins in a row, Villa – who remain sixth in the rankings – missed a glorious opportunity to pile the pressure on their fellow Champions League chasers, and the gap to the top four stands at eight points after Newcastle United’s 6-1 humiliation of Tottenham Hotspur.
Cutting an optimistic figure after the game, Emery insisted that he was “so happy” to come away with a point from a taxing encounter in the capital, and there was every reason for the Spaniard to be pleased about his side scoring for the 21st match running under his wing.
A welcome return to Villa Park now awaits the Lions, who have won each of their last four home games against Crystal Palace, Bournemouth, Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United without conceding a goal, but a reinvigorated Fulham attack will put that defensive mettle to the test.
Scoring in back-to-back Premier League games for just the second time in his career, Fulham’s Harry Wilson once again stepped into the Aleksandar Mitrovic-sized void to propel the Cottagers to a nervy win over relegation-threatened Leeds at the weekend.
Wilson broke the deadlock with a powerful strike off the woodwork with 58 minutes gone before Andreas Pereira lashed home perhaps the easiest goal he will score in his career, but Marco Silva’s side subjected their fans to a nail-biting final 10 minutes following Joao Palhinha’s late own goal.
Nevertheless, the Cottagers held on for a second successive Premier League win – a marked upturn in fortunes from their five-game losing streak earlier in the spring – and Brentford’s failure to beat Villa lifted Silva’s men to ninth in the standings, five points adrift of seventh-placed Liverpool.
The positives have outweighed the negatives for Fulham in the past couple of weeks, but a seven-game run without a clean sheet is not a positive statistic before tackling Emery’s goal-happy crop, and only two of the visitors’ last six away matches have ended in victory.
However, Fulham’s 3-0 thumping of Aston Villa at Craven Cottage earlier in the season makes for positive reading, but the Lions recorded a convincing 3-1 win at Villa Park 24 months ago, and not since the days of Charles N’Zogbia have the two sides played out a draw, with the Frenchman on target in a 1-1 stalemate in April 2013.
Due to a stomach bug which had been plaguing him before the game, Villa number one Emiliano Martinez only lasted until half time against Brentford before having to be replaced by Robin Olsen, who counted his lucky starts when Kevin Schade missed an open goal after the Swede spilled the ball into his path.
However, Villa are optimistic that Martinez’s illness will not impact his availability for Tuesday’s game, but the same cannot be said for Philippe Coutinho (thigh), Leon Bailey (thigh), Boubacar Kamara (ankle) or Matty Cash (ankle).
While Bertrand Traore and Jhon Duran could offer something a bit different from the bench, it would not be a shock to see Emery send out the same starting XI, as Watkins aims to increase his goal tally to 15 for the Premier League season.
In contrast, Fulham will be boosted by the return of Daniel James, who was unable to face parent club Leeds at the weekend, but Mitrovic must serve the fifth of his lengthy eight-game suspension.
Left-back Layvin Kurzawa continues to be troubled by a knee injury and may not return until next month either, but Silva should otherwise be working with a near-identical squad from the weekend, and Neeskens Kebano was able to make his welcome return from a long-term Achilles problem on Saturday.
The return of James could tempt Silva into an attacking alteration, with Bobby Decordova-Reid at risk of losing his spot in the XI as the effervescent pairing of Wilson and Willian continue to strut their stuff out wide.
Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Martinez; Young, Konsa, Mings, Moreno; McGinn, Dendoncker, Luiz, Ramsey; Buendia, Watkins
Fulham possible starting lineup:
Leno; Tete, Adarabioyo, Ream, Robinson; Palhinha, Reed; Wilson, Pereira, Willian; James