Aston Villa-Stoke City Preview
Stoke City hope the time spent training in a warm-weather climate will help them start stringing together some victories.
Facing lowly Aston Villa might also get them headed in the right direction.
The Potters look to win consecutive contests for the first time in two months Saturday against the last-place Villans at Britannia Stadium.
With a week off from game action, Stoke (10-6-10) traded in the damp February conditions of North Central England for the 21-26 Celsius temperatures almost 7,600 kilometers away in the United Arab Emirates. It was far more a business stay than holiday.
"The trip has come at exactly the right time - we (felt) we can recuperate and recover and we're already looking forward to our next game against Villa," manager Mark Hughes told the Potters' official website. "People might look at it and think it's a jolly but that's not the case; there are real benefits that we glean from trips of this nature."
Tenth in the Premier League table with 12 contests remaining, Stoke snapped a four-match top-division goalless stretch by following three straight 3-0 defeats with a 3-1 victory at Bournemouth on Feb. 13. Recently signed from Porto, Giannelli Imbula scored in the ninth minute of his second league contest.
The Potters, who haven't won back-to-back matches since Dec. 26 and 28, also used the heat of Dubai to nurse some key contributors back to health.
While Geoff Cameron (ankle) and Glenn Johnson (knee) aren't likely to return for this contest, Hughes hopes fellow defenders Phil Bardsley (leg) and Marc Muniesa (hamstring) will be available. Ryan Shawcross is also hoping he will be fit to return after missing the last three fixtures.
Marko Arnautovic sat out against Bournemouth due to illness, but the Potters' leading goal-scorer should be back on the pitch. He netted one of his eight goals over all competitions in the 1-0 victory over Villa (3-7-16) in the reverse fixture Oct. 3.
Stoke have won two straight and four of five against the Villans, but that lone defeat came 1-0 at the Britannia last season.
Eight points from safety and looking more and more like a side that have accepted their relegation fate, Villa have endured perhaps too much down time for their liking following a 6-0 loss to Liverpool on Valentine's Day. They had won their previous league match, 2-0 over Norwich City.
Making matters worse, the Villans faced their Under-21 side to stay sharp during the off week and wound up losing 3-0. First-teamers Brad Guzan, Alan Hutton and Jordan Ayew reportedly featured in that match.
"We know we have to put in a positive display this weekend against a good Stoke side," midfielder Jordan Veretout told Villa's official website. "We know we're in a bad position in the table but we're going to battle for every point and see where that takes us.
"We're all very aware that it's a tough challenge but we've not given up on getting over the line and staying up."
Including a 4-0 loss to Manchester City in the FA Cup on Jan. 30, Aston Villa have been blanked in four of their last five matches. Beginning with that defeat, they've yielded 12 goals in the last four.
"We need to start putting in really good performances - and we're looking for our good run to start on Saturday," Veretout added.
Stoke takes the field for the first time since popular defender Andy Wilkinson announced his retirement at age of 31 due to a concussion he sustained during a FA Cup match one year ago. His Stoke contract expired after the 2014-15 season, but they re-signed him on reduced terms with hope of aiding his rehabilitation.