By Joe Roberts

19th Oct, 2023 | 8:53am

Matty Cash axed, Nicolo Zaniolo returns in two changes - Aston Villa predicted XI v West Ham

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery could make two changes in his first post-international break lineup when the Villans take on West Ham United in the Premier League on Sunday (22 October).

Off the back of a disappointing 1-1 draw against Wolves in their last domestic clash, much of the Villa squad, including Ollie Watkins, John McGinn, Nicolo Zaniolo and Emi Martinez, jetted away for their national sides.

Emery will be keen to have them back to full fitness and will field a strong side against the Hammers. Just two points separate fifth-place Villa and seventh-place West Ham, so three points at Villa Park for either team will be a huge boost to their European aspirations.

As reported by Birmingham Live (16 October), the Villans could see the likes of Alex Moreno and Tim Irogbunam return from injury, but they would be unlikely to start, while Jacob Ramsey remains on the sidelines.

Emi Martinez will almost definitely be in goal for the Villans. Villa have struggled to keep clean sheets this season, and their last clash against Wolves spoiled the party again. Martinez, of course, remains one of Europe’s best shot-stoppers and after preventing 0.78 goals at Molineux, Emery will not be keen on dropping him [SofaScore].

The defence could remain the same for the Hammers’ visit to Birmingham. Ezri Konsa has looked very strong at right-back, but he is afforded the opportunities to bring the ball forward while the rest of the defence sit back, while Lucas Digne has thrived in Alex Moreno’s absence. With 12 attempted crosses against Wolves, the Frenchman will be eager to add to his impressive assist tally (five) against David Moyes’ side.

Diego Carlos and Pau Torres could form the rest of the backline. Goalscorer and point-winner Pau Torres is slowly but surely bedding himself into the Premier League, while Carlos’ 91 per cent pass accuracy and frequent progression up the pitch show his value to Emery. The Villa defence will need to keep tight against the strong West Ham attackers, so Emery will be taking no risks.

The midfield is where we could see our first changes. Boubacar Kamara and Douglas Luiz will be shoe-ins for every Premier League encounter this season, injury and suspension-dependent. Kamara did not have the strongest game against Wolves, making just 16 passes and failing both his attempted dribbles, but the partnership remains strong.

In the wide areas, we could see Matty Cash dropped for Leon Bailey. Cash had a torrid time at Molineux and was hauled off late in the game by Emery for the Jamaican. With just 25 per cent ground duels won (2/8) and only seven passes in the whole game, Emery may be eager for a change.

John McGinn is unlikely to break his streak this season after featuring in every fixture for Aston Villa this season. The captain remains a calming and important presence in the midfield and is crucial in keeping the ball in the attacking areas.

Up top, Moussa Diaby could be dropped for Nicolo Zaniolo. Diaby looked off the pace against Wolves, perhaps still recovering from his injury, meaning the Italian could return to the starting lineup. Zaniolo is mixed up in the Italian betting scandal but per the Daily Mail (17 October) is seeking a full acquittal. Emery may take the chance to boost the former Roma man’s confidence with a start and hopefully his first goal contribution.

Ollie Watkins would be shocked to be omitted from the starting lineup. He scored the only goal for England in their friendly victory over Australia during the international break and will be eager to justify his new contract after blanking against Wolves. Per Transfermarkt, Watkins has never beaten the Hammers but will be keen to add to the three goals he’s netted against them.

In other Aston Villa news, a journalist has mooted a “unique” problem for a Villa ace.