Sunderland have made a solid start to the season, and are unbeaten in six games. However, they have drawn their last five games and have been almost exclusively reliant on Darren Bent to register on the score sheet. This may lead Bruce to adopt a more attacking 4-4-2 formation, with record signing Asamoah Gyan starting up front alongside Bent. Whatever shape they adopt, Bruce knows Sunderland will have to start scoring more regularly if they are to avoid a relegation battle this season.
Despite making a reasonably good start, Aston Villa have struggled to get results on their travels and will be hoping they can rectify this at the Stadium of Light on Saturday. Villa have lost three of their four away fixtures so far this season, with the solitary win coming against Wolves. Arguably, the Birmingham-based side were unfortunate against both Stoke City and Tottenham, so will be hoping for a slice of good fortune against the Black Cats. Addressing their away form will be crucial if they are to mount an assault on the Europa League spots.
Aston Villa won 2-0 in the same fixture last year thanks to goals from Emile Heskey and James Milner, and the last time Sunderland were victorious against Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light was back in 2002.
In fact, Villa have won three of the last four games on Sunderland soil so their fans have good reason to be optimistic ahead of the trip north, despite their recent 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Sunderland’s neighbors.
Kieran Richardson suffered a setback in training this week and manager Steve Bruce confirmed he is unlikely to risk the Englishman for this weekend’s game.
Meanwhile, Craig Gordon looks set to continue on the substitute’s bench for the Black Cats. The Scotland international has recovered from his broken arm but Bruce kept faith with Simon Mignolet against Blackburn Rovers and the young Belgian ‘keeper should retain his starting spot.
Anton Ferdinand didn’t feature in Sunderland’s last game following his arrest and subsequent bailing after his courtroom no-show for a driving offense. The defender is fully fit but may be left out of the matchday squad.
Fraizer Campbell and David Meyler are both long-term absentees due to serious knee ligament injuries.
Probable starting XI: Mignolet; Onuoha, Turner, Bramble, Bardsley; Elmohamady, Cattermole, Henderson, Zenden; Bent, Gyan.
The big news for Aston Villa is that Richard Dunne looks set to return to action after his injury against Chelsea. The central defender has trained this week without issue and is expected to return to the starting line-up.
In other positive news, Marc Albrighton has recovered from his illness and Emile Heskey trained on Thursday following his back injury. Brad Friedel is also fit and expected to be in the net once again.
It’s not all good news for Aston Villa, however, as Luke Young will be out for two weeks after medical staff discovered a minor tear in his hamstring. Gabriel Agbonlahor is still out after his groin operation and Fabian Delph is a long-term absentee with a knee injury.
Probable starting XI: Friedel; Beye, Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Downing, Reo-Coker, Petrov, A Young; Ireland; Carew.
For more news on England, visit Goal.com's England section and join Goal.com USA's Facebook fan page!