Date: 15th December 2018 at 7:30am
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Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s Championship clash with Stoke City, Dean Smith spoke honestly about Anwar El Ghazi and his recent upturn in form. The Aston Villa winger impressed in last Friday’s 2-2 draw with West Bromwich Albion and is likely to retain his place against the Potters, coming on leaps and bounds from his below-par showing against Norwich City on October 23.

Smith said in his pre-match press conference: “I spoke to Anwar when I first came in. I didn’t know an awful lot about him, to be honest. He wasn’t on my radar at Brentford, so when I came to Villa it was a bit of the unknown for me. Getting to know him was important. He came on against Norwich and he wasn’t, in his own words, as fit as he wanted to be at that stage.

“The performance wasn’t as good as he could have put in. We sat in my office and went through clips of that game and told him what I expect and what he can improve. To be fair to the lad, he’s gone and done that. He’s worked very hard on the training ground. Anwar has set himself a new standard now. It’s up to him to maintain that standard and improve it where he can.”

El Ghazi has made nine appearances in all competitions this season, contributing five goals since making the loan move from LOSC Lille over the summer. The 23-year-old had a slow start to life at Villa Park, featuring only five times in the Championship up until late-November, but he’s taken all the advice on board and has improved as a result.

The Netherlands international had stiff competition for a starting place from Yannick Bolasie, Albert Adomah and Jonathan Kodjia but is one of the first names on the teamsheet after turning things around of late. After racking up just 40 minutes of Championship football between late-September and late-November, he’s since scored and created three goals in as many games.

El Ghazi should start against Stoke and could be play to helping Villa pick up all three points.

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