Stoke City vs. Aston Villa completes the Premier League Boxing Day schedule and home boss Tony Pulis will be looking to put the seal on a solid December for the Potters.
Stoke really showed their ambition at the end of the August transfer window with the acquisitions of Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch. Now, after securing qualification for the knockout phase of the Europa League, Pulis and his men are starting to see the rewards.
A high profile clash against Valencia awaits Stoke in the New Year; however it is maintaining a solid Premier League platform which will be their main concern over the Christmas period.
Pulis has guided Stoke up to eight place in the table leading into this fixture and his side sit a distant five points above visitors Villa, who have struggled in recent weeks. Alex McLeish has been right up against it in the Villa hot seat for some time after failing to restore and replenish his ailing team which has suffered massively from the departure of players such as Steward Downing and John Carew.
Although the Villains sit fairly comfortably in tenth place after sixteen games, their form has become a major worry for fans who may well still have to endure a relegation drama if McLeish fails to quickly inspire his men or bring in able replacements in January.
Although a narrow defeat at home to Manchester United can be excused, Villa’s next outing at home to Liverpool was nothing short of dire as they were swatted away by Kenny Dalgleish’s side in little over ten minutes before being starved of the ball.
Villa’s away form is also nothing to write home about and consequently they look set to be second best against a Stoke team who play their best football at the Britannia Stadium. With a booming Boxing Day atmosphere behind them, Stoke can definitely kick on towards the European places at the expense of the visitors who are extremely low on confidence.
Outside of the top four, Stoke unquestionably possess the best team going by home form and are rarely turned over on their own patch.
Villa’s distinct lack of threat in the final third means that Stoke are likely to be comfortable in this contest and can focus on breaking Villa down from the off.
Pulis’s boys rarely shy away from a good scrap on the pitch and their tenacity is likely to be too strong for a vulnerable Villa who rely far too heavily on their wide men to counter attack.
At narrow odds against, Stoke look a great bet to seal all three points on Boxing Day and add further to Villa and McLeish’s woes, assuming that they do not come out of their prior clash with Manchester City harbouring too many scars. Knowing Tony Pulis, his team and their realistic ambitions however, it is unlikely that any defeat at City will put them off their job of grinding out wins at home to teams such as Villa and their recovery rate is also very impressive on the whole.
© Frixo 2013