In recent years, the FA Cup, rightly or wrongly, has become an opportunity for those not getting regular first team football. It also represents a game which means we can test the metal of our potential stars.
Dean Smith will be well aware that although fans like a run in the FA Cup, the League is a priority. With a big attendance anticipated on Saturday, Smith may opt for more first team players than he would like. Fans will want to see a performance.
We have already beaten Swansea City on two occasions so far this season. Most pundits would expect home side success. Although I don’t feel Smith will opt for wholesale changes, there will be some who are rested given the busy Christmas period.
If Smith had not become the head coach, most probably would have expected Scott Hogan to leave Villa during this window. I will be honest, I thought he would have had more opportunities under Smith. However, the rich vein of form of Tammy Abraham has seen his chances limited.
There is a lot of speculation surrounding top scorer Tammy Abraham. The game against Swansea represents a massive opportunity for Hogan. Should Abraham leave, Hogan will want to be his replacement and will want to prove to Smith that he can lead the line.
Should he fail to impress he may slip down the pecking order. Keinan Davis is fit once again and will be eager for game time. Jonathan Kodjia may also want to have his say should Abraham’s departure manifest.
As for many players who in recent seasons have adorned the Villa shirt, it has been a strange time as a Villa player so far for Tommy Elphick. The defender was signed as captain but disappointed during his first season at the club. Some hoped he would get a second chance but it curtailed on different occasions by poor management or new recruits.
With an injury to Axel Tuanzebe, Smith opted to cut Elphick’s loan spell with Hull City short. He was thrown straight into the starting line up for the 2-2 draw with QPR. He had an impressive return, symbolised by the warm reception he received from the home faithful.
Elphick could face further competition if we can complete a deal for potential new signing Kortney Hause from Wolves. Swansea represents an opportunity for Elphick to perform well again and cement his position in Villa’s current back four. We may even see Elphick with the captain’s armband again. His leadership qualities are clear to see and Smith has already stated that Chester needs an operation on his knee.
I have recently stated in a previous article that I believe Cal O’Hare should be filling the space left by the injured Jack Grealish. I stand by the opinion. The dip in results and decrease in chances created correlates to the period Grealish has been injured. Without Jack, we appear limited through the middle with our main threat coming from the wingers.
During his post-match interview after QPR, Smith noted how John McGinn and Conor Hourihane looked exhausted. Both players have featured heavily since Smith’s arrival and are clearly in need of a rest.
A midfield due of Birkir Bjarnason and Glenn Whelan, with O’Hare given licence to roam behind the striker, is how I would like to see Smith line up today. O’Hare will be given the chance to perform and should he impress there will be a position for him to play during Grealish’s absence.