Burnley-Aston Villa Preview
Aston Villa will be forgiven for having more than one eye on the upcoming FA Cup final as they host Burnley at Villa Park on Sunday.
Tim Sherwood's Aston Villa (10-8-19) have a week to prepare for their Wembley date with Arsenal and are expected to rest a number of key players against the relegation-bound Clarets in their final league game.
However, a drop in confidence wouldn't be something that Sherwood would want to take with his side to the national stadium, and after last weekend's humiliating 6-1 defeat to Southampton, there is a very real risk Villa's form could be dipping at precisely the wrong moment.
At least the Villans won't have Premier League survival to worry about. Defeats for Hull City and Newcastle United last weekend guaranteed Villa's top-flight status, even with their loss against Southampton, and goal-scoring hero Christian Benteke is keen to point out the role that the club's central midfielders had in helping escaping relegation.
"Everyone says Benteke is the guy who helped Villa survive, but I don't forget that Fab (Delph) and Tom (Cleverley) work so hard behind me," Benteke said. "Because they're midfielders, maybe people don't see what they do. Tom has done really well and it's not just about his goals.
"The confidence of the team is so high," the Belgian added. "We want to finish well and get three points to take into the Arsenal game. If you look since the manager came we have had one bad performance against Southampton. The rest are quite good."
Sunday's visitors to Villa Park are heading to the Championship next season. Sean Dyche's Burnley have known their fate for some time, but are at least ending the season on a high thanks to positive results against Hull and Stoke City in their last two games.
And the Clarets had another moment to celebrate Thursday when goalkeeper Tom Heaton was called up by Roy Hodgson to the England squad.
The Burnley stopper has seen 53 goals fly past him, but without his impressive displays between the sticks that tally could have been much higher, and Dyche believes that national selection is richly deserved for the 29-year-old.
"Among the obvious disappointment of not maintaining our Premier League status, there are some very big positives for this football club and this is one of them," the Burnley boss said. "Tom's achievement encapsulates all that is positive about the club at present.
"The whole profile of the club has been recognised and the fact we now have an England player shows that we are alive and kicking. To become the first player from the club to receive an England call-up in 40 years is a big sign that we are on the right track as a club."
Dyche will have to make do without the services of Dean Marney and Kevin Long for Sunday's game, with both also set to miss the start of next season with knee ligament injuries.
Aston Villa's injury doubts are over Kieran Richardson, Libor Kozak, Nathan Baker, Ciaran Clark and Chris Herd, although most are expected to be available for the Wembley final.
It was a 1-1 draw when these teams met at Turf Moor in November. Joe Cole had put the Villans in front, but Danny Ings rescued a point for the hosts with a late penalty.