- West Brom v Aston Villa preview
Midlands derby to set fire or fizzle out?
With no Wolves or Birmingham in the Premier League anymore, West Brom v Aston Villa is the only Midlands derby going but excitement at what the contest might hold is tempered in both fans' minds by their team's poor recent performances.
Since Villa's impressive 3-1 victory over Liverpool they have more resembled a League Two side, actually a non-league side given their recent 3-1 loss to Bradford City in the Capital One Cup.
Their 19 points so far in the league is their lowest ever total after 22 matches. West Brom are shaking too but their stellar start to the season means they still sit in seventh and their 33 points is their best ever haul at this point in the Premier League.
Defeat for either side would not be a disaster, no more than recent ones anyway, so the question is will they throw caution to the wind and play ball or go into lock down and fight for a point?
Thanks to a disastrous Christmas period, Villa's form is the worst in the Premier league at the moment. Paul Lambert's team have shipped 22 goals in their past seven games in all competitions. Needless to say, the rub of the green is not going their way either as their 1-0 loss to Southampton in their last game showed. Saints striker Jay Rodriguez took a blatant dive in the box and Rickie Lambert's penalty ensured Villa slipped into the bottom three.
West Brom are in no fine fettle themselves and are winless in 2013. They have lost three league games on the spin with the latest defeat coming at the hands of Reading after the Baggies led 2-0 with just ten minutes to play.
Baggies manager Steve Clarke is expected to recall several of the players that he rested for the 1-0 FA Cup loss to QPR on Tuesday, including Ben Foster, Liam Ridgewell and Chris Brunt.
For Villa there could be a recall for captain Ron Vlaar who has been sidelined for the past seven weeks with a calf injury. The Dutchman was an unused substitute against Southampton but he may be asked to put in the full 90 to end Villa's desperate run.
- Romelu Lukaku v Christian Benteke
The battle of the Belgian strikers
- Andreas Weimann v Gareth McAuley
The Austrian is a rare free spirit in the Villa side
- Ben Foster v Brad Guzan
Both goalkeepers are used to letting in goals, who can stop the rot?
One to watch
Aside from Demba Ba, Romelu Lukaku is the highest scoring Chelsea player this season with nine goals. His double against Reading was a well-taken set and the 19-year-old has all the hallmarks of a Didier Drogba in the making.
Ba's signing means he will not be recalled to his mother club and Baggies fans will have breathed a sigh of relief at effectively retaining their star man.
Key battleAndreas Weimann has been a rare bright spark for the Villains and the Austrian's inventiveness will be needed to break down a robust West Brom defence. However that reputation was undermined against Reading with the side's collapse in the final eight minutes. Gareth McAuley will be charged with shoring up their frailties for the whole game and shutting down Weimann will be a constant occupation.
Prediction and bet
Two sides low on confidence can sometimes meet in the middle and put on a high-scoring show. But with realists Clarke and Lambert facing off against each other in the dugout, that prospect is unlikely and both teams will probably creep into their shells as the game goes on, if they are not in them already at kick-off.
With the likes of Lukaku and Christian Benteke on the pitch there should however be a goal or two so our prediction is a 1-1 draw which is at 6/1 on bet365.