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Preview: Much to play for and Aston Villa have a say at both ends

Villa enter the season’s final fortnight with the chance to have a big impact on what happens at both ends of the Premier League table.

Villa head coach Steven Gerrard, right, after victory over Norwich
Villa head coach Steven Gerrard, right, after victory over Norwich

Aside when Crystal Palace visit on May 15, each of the last four opponents for Steven Gerrard’s team have something major to play for.

Villa face both Liverpool and Manchester City, the latter at the Etihad on the campaign’s final day.

Tomorrow’s trip to Turf Moor, meanwhile, is the first of two meetings with Burnley in the space of 13 days, December’s home fixture against the Clarets having finally been rearranged for May 19.

Having taken 10 points from four matches under the guidance of former Shrewsbury caretaker Mike Jackson, Burnley are among the Premier League’s most in-form teams and from a position where they were five points adrift of safety just a few weeks ago, they now find themselves out of the drop zone.

The still perilous nature of their position means tomorrow’s match takes on greater importance for the hosts than the visitors.

Yet neither are Villa simply playing for pride over the next two weeks. In addition to targeting the club’s first top half finish for more than a decade, there’s also a significant amount of prize money to be determined depending on where Gerrard’s team finish in the table.

Each position is worth more than £2million in merit payments and with five matches to go, Villa could still end up anywhere between ninth and 15th in the standings. Last season, that equated to a difference of around £13million, a not insignificant amount for a club expected to be active in the summer window. In that light, not even the meeting with Palace, currently a place and a point higher in the table, could be considered a dead-rubber.

Had Villa failed to beat Norwich last weekend they would now be looking nervously over their shoulders, with Burnley’s renaissance ensuring close to 40 points may be required to avoid the drop this season.

“Burnley are in a fantastic place,” said Gerrard. “They have had a bounce with the caretaker manager coming in.

“But the points need to be just as important for us and every game is important between now and the end of the season.

“I have said many times we need to try to finish as high as we can to give us that base going into a really important pre-season.

“We want to look up, we want to be positive. Being 15th in the league can’t feel good if you are an Aston Villa player. We can’t have that.”

Gerrard will consider handing Danny Ings a start against his former club after the striker helped inspire the win over the Canaries off the bench.

While the £25million signing from Southampton admits his own season has been underwhelming, he been involved in more Villa goals than any other player, scoring six and setting up the same number for his team-mates.

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