Neil Taylor has been one of Aston Villa’s most consistent performers in 2017 following a January transfer window deadline day move from Swansea City.
The left-back made the switch to Villa Park with Jordan Ayew going the other way, and he quickly established himself in the team under Steve Bruce with Jordan Amavi dropping to the substitutes’ bench.
While the Frenchman, who is on loan with Marseille with a view to making a permanent move next summer, was recently called into the France squad following an injury to Layvin Kurzuwa, he struggled to rediscover the early form he showed having signed for Aston Villa in the summer of 2015 last season.
The full-back suffered an ACL tear in his right leg while on international duty with the Under-21s in November 2015, and he looked a shadow of his former self having made his return to action in the Championship.
His dip in form meant that Bruce looked to bring in a new left-back at the start of 2017, and he would have been delighted to take the experienced Taylor from Swansea as part of the Ayew deal.
While the Wales international doesn’t often do the spectacular from an attacking sense, he is a solid and reliable performer and a good defender first and foremost.
The 28-year-old played the full 90 minutes in 12 of Aston Villa’s last 15 Championship fixtures last term – which included a run where they conceded one goal in eight matches – while he had also featured in every minute of their league campaign this term, until the remaining seconds of their fourth league win in a row against Bolton Wanderers last time out that is.
Taylor was shown a red card for a challenge on Trotters striker Adam Le Fondre, and after the club failed with an appeal to overturn the decision it means that the left-back will be absent for the trip to face second-place Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux this weekend.
With Amavi joining Marseille on loan during the summer and Bruce failing to bring in a cover and competition for Taylor during the same period, he must decide who will fill in for the Welshman on Saturday.
There are certainly plenty of candidates, with right-backs Alan Hutton and James Bree able to cover there if required and Ritchie De Laet, Birkir Bjarnason and Mitch Clark starting the club’s three EFL Cup fixtures this season in that position.
Youngsters Oscar Borg and Jack Bedeau could be outside bets to start, although the calibre and danger of the player they are likely to come up against could see Bruce choose to go with a more experienced head.
Helder Costa showed the ability he has in his first season with Wolves when he scored 12 goals and provided a further 11 assists in 40 appearances in all competitions last term.
Not only did the speedy right winger show that he was a huge danger in the Championship, but he also put in a standout performance in the 2-0 win against Liverpool in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Anfield in January, picking up two assists.
As well as netting nine goals in 34 league games, the Portuguese wide man showed that he can provide for his teammates too after creating 57 chances, while he also successfully completed 48 of the 80 take-ons he attempted.
While he was in such good form last season, the 23-year-old has been hampered by an ankle injury this term and he only made his first appearance of the campaign as a late substitute in the 2-0 defeat to Sheffield United late last month.
The winger then made his first start against Burton Albion three days later but was taken off in the 51st minute, and he will have been working hard to boost his fitness over the international break to ensure that he is raring to go against Villa.
While the Midlands outfit will certainly be pleased that Costa doesn’t appear to be back to his best just yet, they must also be aware of the dangers that he will bring and Bruce must select a left-back to face up against him accordingly.
Villa supporters would probably prefer Alan Hutton to start at right-back unless Ahmed Elmohamady is going to having played the last two matches there, while playing a youngster like Mitch Clark would be a risk.
The Villa Park faithful certainly won’t fancy Bjarnason to start either considering he has struggled to make an impact following his January move to the club as well as the lack of pace that he has shown, meaning that Hutton, Bree and De Laet look to be best options for the job.
You would think that Bruce would select either the former or the latter because of the experience they have, as the former Hull City boss looks to ensure that Costa has an ineffectual evening at Molineux.
De Laet certainly has the speed to get the nod but considering he has made just four appearances this season following his return to action following a knee injury in July, it remains to be seen whether he will start.
Whoever Bruce does pick will know the job that they have to do throughout the 90 minutes, and that individual will be looking to fill the massive Taylor-sized hole that has been left ahead of this Championship clash between two in-form clubs.