Crystal Palace v Aston Villa: Steven Gerrard takes on another old midfield foe

Villa’s trip to Crystal Palace is an early season meeting between two teams with aspirations of breaking into the Premier League’s top 10.

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira

Just two places and three points might have separated them in the final table last term, yet the difference in mood could hardly have been more marked.

While Villa’s 14th-placed finish was deemed “unacceptable” by Steven Gerrard, Palace’s slightly loftier position was considered such a success Patrick Vieira was nominated for manager of the season.

Vieira’s challenge for his second campaign at Selhurst Park is to build on the foundations of his first. In many ways it is a similar story for Gerrard yet the pressure to deliver will always be that much greater at a club who have made no secret of their grand long-term ambitions.

In that regard, it has been notable how players have tended to dodge the specifics when quizzed on Villa’s targets for the season. That may be less an attempt to lower expectations, than an acceptance they have in the past been guilty of failing to back-up big talk.

Matty Cash was the latest to deliver the “one match at a time” mantra when asked about the team’s potential.

“It’s about trying to have as much consistency as we can. Over the years we haven’t had enough of that,” said the right-back.

“It is something we have spoken about as a team. Players need to keep consistent performances and that is how you get consistent results.

“It is one of the things we are looking at. We want to climb the league and focus on every game as it comes. It is a cliché but you can’t worry about two matches down the line. We have to keep winning and putting in performances.”

Villa’s display in last weekend’s 2-1 win over Everton was markedly improved on that from their opening day defeat at Bournemouth, albeit the joy of victory was soured by a serious injury to Diego Carlos which may have ended the defender’s season before it had barely begun.

Ezri Konsa is favourite to return to the starting XI in place of the Brazilian with Gerrard naming his third different centre-back pairing in as many matches. In attack, Emi Buendia should get the nod over Philippe Coutinho following his goal-scoring substitute appearance against the Toffees.

“Nobody’s a bigger fan of Emi Buendia than me,” said Gerrard, when asked whether the Argentine had done enough to earn his first start of the season.

“We’ve got really good options in the final third and Emi Buendia will start football matches in this team. He was winning the race for a starting slot and he got a muscle injury and missed close to a week.

“We’ve been patient with him and haven’t felt the need to risk him and start him because of the muscle injury.

“I think I’ve done the right thing with Emi which is to protect his health.”

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