Premier League Preview: Aston Villa v Stoke City
By Football News
Stoke City will not be short of incentives when they visit Aston Villa in the Premier League on Sunday, according to manager Mark Hughes.
The two sides sit level on points in mid-table and are just six short of the fabled 40-point mark, which is usually enough to guarantee top-flight safety.
With that in mind, the two clubs - who have a relatively comfortable margin over the bottom three - could be forgiven for thinking they had little play for, but Hughes has set his players a series of targets for the remainder of the campaign.
"There are a number of objectives we can achieve if we have a good end to the season," he said. "We are aiming for our highest points total, we want to finish in the top 10 and we want to be the best team in the Midlands, too.
"There are a lot of things for us to aim at, and if we can recognise that and perform as well as I know we can, we can achieve a lot of things this year.
"It will be a very difficult game, but we know that we can go there and come away with a positive result. They have been a little inconsistent at home this year, but they have had two good results in recent weeks.
"We can go there though and impose ourselves on them and that is what we will be looking to do."
Stoke claimed a 2-1 victory when the sides met at the Britannia Stadium back in December, but have not picked up three points at Villa Park since 1988 in the old Second Division.
The Staffordshire side have never finished as the highest-placed Midlands club in the English pyramid system before, but Villa captain Ron Vlaar is determined to build on an impressive 1-0 victory over Chelsea last time out and deal Stoke a setback this weekend.
"When you look at it, we have beaten Chelsea and we have beaten Manchester City at home, so it's going in the right direction definitely," he told the club's official website.
"The win against Chelsea in particular, who are on top of the table, is a great boost for the team and the way we performed was really good.
"We have to build on that and we have to focus - and believe in ourselves that we can do this in every game."
Stoke will be without Stephen Ireland due to a clause in the midfielder's transfer from Villa in January, but could welcome loanee Oussama Assaidi back after more than a month out with a knee injury.
Robert Huth (knee) remains sidelined, fellow defender Erik Pieters (leg) is a doubt, and Charlie Adam and Jonathan Walters are still suspended.
The hosts, meanwhile, will be missing long-term absentees Libor Kozak (broken leg) and Charles N'Zogbia (Achilles), while Jores Okore (knee) is unlikely to feature.