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Preview: Birmingham vs. Aston Villa - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole brings you the team news, predicted lineups and a full preview of Aston Villa's trip to Birmingham City in the Championship.

Bitter rivals Birmingham City and Aston Villa will lock horns at St Andrew's in the Championship on Sunday afternoon.

The match is huge for the two sets of supporters, but it is also extremely important in terms of the Championship table, with Birmingham currently in eighth and Villa in 11th as both teams search for a playoff position.


Birmingham City manager Garry Monk pictured on November 28, 2018© Reuters

Birmingham are currently in their eighth straight season at Championship level and have actually finished 19th in each of the last two campaigns, showing their recent struggles at this level of football.

It has been a much, much better season for the Blues this time around, though, with a total of 50 points from their 35 matches leaving them in eighth position, just four points off sixth-placed Bristol City.

Only Norwich City, Leeds United, Sheffield United and Middlesbrough have lost fewer league matches than Birmingham (nine) this term, but they have been the draw specialists with 14 from their 35 fixtures in the second tier.

Their form has been a bit of a mixed bag in recent weeks, enjoying impressive wins away to Queens Park Rangers and Bristol City, but losing at home to Bolton Wanderers and away to Hull City last time out.

It is extremely tight in the Championship when considering that just two points separate 13th-placed Sheffield Wednesday from eighth-placed Birmingham. The likes of West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough will fancy their chances of staying in the top six, but it is still a very open race when it comes to the playoffs.

Birmingham's home form this season, however, has not exactly been terrific; they have only lost three times at St Andrew's, but have won just six of their 17 Championship fixtures. What's more, each of the last three league games between Birmingham and Villa at St Andrew's have finished all square.

It is difficult to speak about Garry Monk's side without mentioning a certain Che Adams. The forward picked up the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for February and currently sits on 21 Championship goals for the season. Birmingham would not be on the cusp of the top six without the 22-year-old, who will surely move on at the end of the season having been linked with the Premier League.

Villa will enter Sunday's match full of confidence following their impressive win over Derby County last weekend, but Birmingham have their own playoff ambitions and would love nothing more than to derail their rivals.

Recent form: WWLDWL

Aston Villa

Dean Smith in charge of Aston Villa on January 19, 2019© Reuters

There is no getting away from the fact that Villa have underperformed in the Championship this season. Like Birmingham, they have only suffered nine defeats from their 35 matches, but have also drawn too many, sharing the points on 15 occasions and therefore winning just 11 times in the league during the 2018-19 campaign.

Only Norwich and West Brom have scored more goals than Villa (61) in the Championship this season, but Dean Smith's side have shipped 53 down the other end, which is among the poorest records in the division.

Ahead of the derby, Birmingham boss Monk, speaking at his pre-match press conference on Thursday, insisted that Villa "have the best quality of players in the league" when it comes to the forward positions, and it is difficult to argue with the 40-year-old's words.

Injuries have certainly not helped Villa in a defensive area, but the fact that they have been so open means that they are currently fighting for a top-six spot rather than sitting in the playoffs at this stage of the campaign.

Just six points separate 11th-placed Villa from sixth-placed Bristol City, which is a gap that can be closed. Confidence in the camp will be high ahead of this match, meanwhile, when considering that they thumped Derby 4-0 at Villa Park last weekend.

The win over the Rams was Villa's first league success since January 26 and it marked the return from injury of key figure Jack Grealish, who scored his team's fourth on the stroke of the interval.

Like Birmingham, Villa also have one of the best centre-forwards in the Championship. Tammy Abraham - on loan from Chelsea - has matched Adams's league total of 21, with only Billy Sharp and Teemu Pukki managing more goals in the second tier of English football this season.

Smith's record since taking charge of Villa last October is played 24, won eight, drawn nine and lost seven. They are a team now moving in the right direction and a win over Birmingham would lead them nicely into Wednesday's trip to Nottingham Forrest.

It really is a huge period of the season for Villa when considering that their next five in the Championship are Birmingham (H), Forest (A), Middlesbrough (H), Blackburn Rovers (H) and Sheffield Wednesday (A). The former Premier League club cannot look past Sunday's clash, though, which is shaping up to be a fascinating affair.

Recent form: DDLLDW

Team News

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith embraces midfielder John McGinn in November, 2018© Reuters

Birmingham will be without on-loan midfielder Gary Gardner this weekend, with Villa refusing to allow the 26-year-old to play against his parent club.

Craig Gardner and David Davis will be battling for the midfield spot alongside Maikel Kieftenbeld, with the latter expected to get the nod despite having only just returned from a long spell on the sidelines.

The Blues will also be unable to call upon key full-back Maxime Colin, who has a hamstring problem. As a result, Wes Harding is expected to be handed a spot in the XI.

Marc Roberts and Charlie Lakin are both back in training for Monk's side following injuries, but neither will be available to take part in Sunday's clash.

As for Villa, Smith has a huge dilemma when it comes to key midfielder John McGinn.

The summer arrival has missed Villa's last two Championship games through suspension and Smith must decide whether to recall the Scot or stick with the same side that started against Derby.

Villa have a number of injury problems at the back, though, with Alan Hutton on the sidelines with a knee problem, while James Chester, Axel Tuanzebe and Tommy Elphick are all unavailable.

It seems likely that Kortney Hause will switch from left-back to partner Tyrone Mings in central defence, with Neil Taylor and Ahmed Elmohamady making up the defensive unit.

Abraham will once again lead the line Villa line, with Anwar El Ghazi also starting in the final third of the field.

Birmingham possible starting lineup:
Camp; Harding, Dean, Morrison, Pedersen; Jota, Kieftenbeld, Davis, Mahoney; Adams, Jutkiewicz

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Steer; Elmohamady, Mings, Hause, Taylor; Grealish, Whelan, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Abraham, Adomah

Head To Head

Sunday will bring the 128th meeting between Birmingham and Villa in all competitions.

Villa lead the head-to-head 56 wins to Birmingham's 38, with the final 33 fixtures finishing all square.

Earlier this season, Villa recorded a 4-2 victory at Villa Park, while Birmingham have not actually triumphed in this particular fixture since a 2-1 home success in the League Cup in December 2010.

Not since a 2-0 victory in their Premier League clash at St Andrew's during the 2004-05 season have Birmingham overcome Villa in a league match, which is a worrying run of form.

That said, as mentioned above, each of the last three league meetings at St Andrew's have finished level.

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We say: Birmingham 1-2 Aston Villa

It is a really tough one to call, for obvious reasons. Villa were seriously good against Derby last weekend, though, and we fancy Smith's side to run out narrow winners in the Second City derby on Sunday afternoon.

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Gary Gardner in action for Aston Villa in October 2016
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