Stoke City-Aston Villa Preview
By RYAN WILLOX
(AP) -- LONDON (SE) - The statistical evidence doesn't point to a festival of goals when Aston Villa take on Stoke City on Saturday at Villa Park but Potters 'keeper Asmir Begovic will be delighted if that is the case.
Begovic has kept a league leading seven clean sheets and has let in just 12 goals in 15 games. Only Manchester City's Joe Hart (11) has given up fewer Premier League goals so far.
"It's been a fantastic start to the season for us, and in terms of our defensive performances I really don't think it could have gone much better for us," Begovic told the club website.
"We do put a lot of work into the defensive side of the game, and things have really clicked for us so far this season. It's helped keeping Ryan (Shawcross) and Robert (Huth) together in the middle because they have been solid in there."
The form of the back line has compensated for a lack of firepower up front for the Potters. Only Sunderland have attempted fewer shots or shots on target per game than Stoke, with opponents Aston Villa the third worst.
Stoke (5-7-3) won just once in their first 10 Premier League matches, but they have four wins in five since and Begovic believes his attacking teammates still deserve tremendous credit for their part in the side's recent good run.
"It's been a team effort though for sure, because every player has a duty to defend at one point or another. The wingers and forwards all get back and help out too, so it is definitely a big effort from all of us.
"For me personally it's been great. Keeping a clean sheet gives me the same satisfaction as it does for a striker who scores a goal. It's a great feeling and hopefully I can keep a few more."
After a shaky start to the season, Villa (3-5-7) are unbeaten in three and striker Gabby Agbonlahor thinks the best is yet to come from a young squad that is developing together under manager Paul Lambert.
"I've obviously been in quite a few different Villa teams through the years and I'm excited about this one at the moment," he told the club website. "It's an improving team. I feel we are progressing each week. You see development in each game. That's because we're getting more and more used to each other.
"It's a really good team in the making. But there's definitely progress already. And it's important to realise this isn't just a short-term fix, this is a long-term project which will bear fruit in the future. The future is good."
Four of the last five meetings between the sides have ended in draws, with a 2-1 Stoke home win in September 2010 the lone decisive outcome in either side's favour. Villa's last win over Stoke came the year before, a 1-0 win in December 2009. Only Everton have drawn more games than Stoke so far this season and the Villa have tied two of their last three Premier League outings.
The corresponding game last season finished 1-1 in April at Villa Park as Huth scored in the second half to cancel out Andreas Weimann's goal just after halftime. There were no goals at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day last year in a match that featured a combined three shots on target.
Updated December 6, 2012