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D-Day for Nakamba

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IT’S now or never for Marvelous Nakamba and his Aston Villa team.

BY HENRY MHARA/FORTUNE MBELE

The Warriors star midfielder and his team are in real danger of dropping out of the English Premier League after just one season, and they host 10th-placed Arsenal tonight with their league status on the line.

Third from the bottom on the log standings with 31 points, Nakamba and his teammates just have to win this one to at least keep their survival hopes alive.

Avoiding defeat against the Gunners could also mean that Aston Villa could take their relegation battle to the last day of the season.

That will, however, depend on results from other games involving their relegation rivals.

Villa are sitting on the relegation cut-off point and three points from the team above them, Watford, which host Manchester City two hours before the 9:15pm kick-off at Villa Park.

With just two rounds of matches to go, the Dean Smith-managed Villa could kick-off their match six points behind in the event that the Hornets upset the outgoing champions.

A win for Watford means that Villa will also need to record a victory against Arsenal to keep their survival hopes alive.

West Ham and Brighton & Hove, all on 37 points, will also be following the events at Villa Park with keen interest, knowing that if Aston Villa fail to get three points, they would have both survived relegation.

If Villa win even by a single goal margin and Watford lose to City by at least three goals, then Dean’s men will be out of the relegation zone ahead of their final day match against West Ham.

However, Nakamba’s team are facing an Arsenal side full of confidence after their 2-1 league victory over league champions Liverpool which they followed up with a 2-0 win over Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.

But with Mikel Arteta’s side having just two days of full rest after that win over City, Villa will be hoping to capitalise on some potential fatigue.

It is their form though that has been worrying.

They have won just once in seven league games since the season’s restart but Smith is still hopeful that the team can survive relegation.

“We have to concentrate fully on ourselves, it’s a very important game, we have to get a result in this game and the players know that,” Smith told reporters in a virtual news conference yesterday.

“I think there has been pressure on us ever since we came back for project restart. I think everybody has had us relegated since March. Our job is to go and prove people wrong. These players have played under pressure and they seem to thrive on it. I feel that our performance levels have been good since the restart but we haven’t got the points we deserve.

“I feel that players are coming to the fore now at the top end of the pitch and starting to perform a lot better than they were. I’ve given them a few quotes from pundits. The lads can go and use that as a positive.”

Smith said injuries to Wesley, Tom Heaton and John McGinn, who have all missed a major chunk of the season, have contributed to Villa’s struggles.

“It’s frustrating because I believe we have got the players here. We have been hampered by some big injuries this season to key players… They would hamper any team in the league,” he said.

Nakamba’s best friend and Warriors teammate Teenage Hadebe is also facing the same predicament with his team Yeni Malatyaspor in the Turkish Süper lig.

The club suffered a 3-0 defeat away to relegation rivals Rizespor on Sunday to drop into the relegation zone.
Just like Villa, Hadebe’s team are third from the bottom on the log standings, which is the relegation cut-off point. They have 32 points, three behind Rizespor and Denizlispor with one round of games left.
Yeni Malatyaspor conclude their season with a home match against Gaziantep FK on Sunday. For them to survive relegation, they will have to win this match and pray that either Rizespor or Denizlispor lose their respective encounters.

Rizespor travel to Fenerbahçe while Denizlispor host already relegated Ankaragücü.

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