Aston Villa will feel confident as they prepare for tomorrow’s local derby against West Brom in the Championship play-offs after a remarkable final few months of the season.
Dean Smith’s side have lost just one in 13 – and that was a final day defeat to Norwich when the manager rested several key men.
With competition for places fierce at Villa Park, several players have stepped up in that run but Smith may have to leave one important individual out, despite his fine form.
That’s midfielder Conor Hourihane.
The Irishman has seven goals and 11 assists from midfield, so his contribution to the promotion push has been clear and we expect him to be involved over the two games.
However, Smith might struggle to get him in from the start against the Baggies, with the experienced Glenn Whelan the man to provide more balance to the midfield.
Unfortunately for Hourihane, who is at his best when he is given license to get forward, he is competing against Jack Grealish and John McGinn, and the duo quite simply have to start.
The local lad is without doubt the most talented player at the club, whilst the Scotsman has scooped two Player of the Year awards.
So, with Smith going with a three-man midfield, that leaves one place up for grabs and whoever plays in that role has more defensive responsibilities.
Whilst Hourihane could do that job as he is experienced enough, that’s not his game, whereas his Ireland teammate Whelan would sniff out danger quicker and is stronger in the challenge.
That could be vital against a Baggies side who pose a clear threat in the final third.
Whelan’s presence in front of the back four may give Villa more protection and importantly give Grealish more freedom as he is the man Villa will want on the ball to win them the game.
So, it’s going to be a tough decision for Smith as he considers his XI for tomorrow but he needs to find the right balance and pick the best team, not the best players.
Sadly for the productive Hourihane, that could see his play-off involvement restricted to sub appearances.
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