Aston Villa welcome Crystal Palace to Villa Park on Sunday afternoon, but Steven Gerrard could be without Ollie Watkins as he’s recovering from an ankle injury and has yet to train since Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Liverpool.
The 26-year-old was substituted in the 81st minute and replaced by Bertrand Traore, so he faces a race to feature against the Eagles. Gerrard said in Friday’s pre-match press conference: “Ollie hasn’t trained yet since the (Liverpool) game, but he’s still got a chance to be involved.”
Watkins’ fitness record has been outstanding at Villa, featuring in 37 of 38 Premier League games last season (14 goals, 5 assists) and featuring in 32 of 35 league games (10 goals, 1 assist) this campaign, so it’s not impossible to think he could recover in time.
Gerrard is staying optimistic, adding: “We’re hoping he’s going to take part in (Saturday’s) session. He’s got a knock on his ankle. I don’t think it’s too serious, I’m told by the doctor he’ll be coming out (on Saturday) to try and train so, all being well, he’ll be available.”
Gerrard doesn’t have a replacement striker available if Watkins misses the Palace clash, so he could be forced into changing Villa’s from a 4-3-1-2 formation to a 4-3-2-1.
Emiliano Buendia could replace Watkins and operate as a second advanced playmaker alongside Philippe Coutinho as he’s been impressive when called upon – two goals and one assist in his last three games.
There is a chance Watkins returns in time, but Buendia wouldn’t be a bad option if not. He picked up a knock in training but should be fit, Gerrard said. “Emi Buendía left training (Thursday) with a knock but trained (Friday) so that’s no issue.”