December 25, 2014

Aston Villa have been rooted to the bottom of the table for the majority of the season, but they could buck the odds and avoid the drop by stringing together a late-season run of positive form. That must start Saturday when the Villans travel to the Liberty Stadium to face Swansea City.

It's been a year to forget for the West Midlands club, who have struggled for both form and consistent positive results having won just three times this season, and to make matters more challenging, sporting director Hendrik Almstadt left the club through mutual consent Tuesday.

The Villans (3-7-20), whose last victory came March 13 over Norwich City, have since lost five consecutive league matches. Last week it was 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur, as England international Harry Kane scored a brace.

If Villa are to have any chance at survival, they must overcome some of the worst away form in the history of the Premier League. They've gone winless in 14 league matches (0-3-11) since a 1-0 win at Bournemouth on the opening day, getting outscored 32-10.

Despite the significant task in front of his club, Villa manager Remi Garde insists his men are up for the challenge.

"It's still mathematically possible and until the end we will still believe," the Frenchman said. "I would say it's a massive challenge to win enough games to be safe. But when you're wearing an Aston Villa shirt you have to be proud and fight until the last moment. That's what we will do.

"I love football. I hate defeats. Five defeats in a row - I am not sure I have experienced that before in my whole career. I am relying on myself to be strong and find the right words for the players. When I see that Tottenham game, I feel that the players hear what I say. We will now go to Swansea and try to win."

Swansea City are eight points clear of the drop zone, but will need to keep their focus and intensity down the stretch in order to secure Premier League status for a sixth consecutive season.

The Swans (8-9-13) are trying to get back on the winning track following a 3-2 defeat to Bournemouth at Dean Court on March 12. Modou Barrow became the first Gambia international to score in the Premier League and Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled Swansea level on 62 minutes, but they conceded a goal to Steve Cook 12 minutes from time.

If the Swans are to get a positive result in front of the home fans, they will have to get off to a fast start and also find a way to keep it up in the second half. Swansea have won three matches after conceding the opening strike, but also have scored just 13 second-half goals.

Defender Angel Rangel insists that a win over Villa on Saturday is crucial if the Swans are to retain their top-flight status.

"It's been a strange and stressful season for us all at the club," the Spaniard said. "We have been used to success over the last seven or eight seasons, but this season has been more stressful than usual. The most important thing is to stay up.

"This is a massive game for us and we need to extend the gap between ourselves and the teams below us. We had a good run of two consecutive wins over Arsenal and Norwich, then we had a setback against Bournemouth last weekend. So the pressure is firmly on us, and I see it as a must-win game. Villa are fighting for their lives, and so are we. We know the situation will look a lot better for us if we win this game. It would make a massive difference."

Swansea rallied to win the reverse fixture 2-1 at Villa Park in October. Jordan Ayew opened the scoring for Villa with a goal just after the hour, but Sigurdsson equalised six minutes later. Jordan's brother Andre then won the match three minutes from time.

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