Aston Villa v West Ham
Today: Villa Park, 3pm
Tim Sherwood has labelled Christian Benteke the best striker in Europe as he placed his Aston Villa squad on trial.
The red-hot forward has scored 11 goals in his last nine games to help keep Villa out of the Premier League’s bottom three.
Yesterday Benteke was named the Barclays Premier League Player of the Month for April after scoring five times.
He also netted twice in last week’s 3-2 win over Everton to leave Villa two points above the relegation zone ahead of today’s visit of West Ham, and boss Sherwood believes the Belgian is untouchable on current form.
“I don’t know if there’s a better striker in Europe right now. He’s the best,” he said.
“Benteke is going nowhere in the summer, no one can afford him. I’m delighted for him. It’s great to see, he’s happy with it.
“It helps us. He’s in great form. We’re creating the chances for him and he’s sticking them away.”
West Ham are aware of the threat posed by Benteke with Hammers manager Sam Allardyce admitting defender Reece Burke will have to be at the top of his game to contain the “unstoppable” hitman.
Burke has registered consecutive clean sheets in his first two Premier League starts against QPR and Burnley, but the 18-year-old faces his toughest test yet against Benteke.
“Tim has got Benteke back on form. He’s a goalscorer that we all know, when he’s in confident mood, he can be unstoppable,” Allardyce said.
“It will be Reece’s most difficult test, I think.”
Benteke is central to Sherwood’s plans next season but the manager admits others still need to prove themselves.
He has only been in charge since replacing Paul Lambert in February and is running the rule over his players.
He said: “I’m still learning but there are a few I’ve rubber-stamped and a few I’ve got question marks over. They know that.
“They know they are on trial if they want to stay at this club, every training session and every game.
“They are on trial to get a place in the (FA) Cup final and they will want to stay here because it is a big club. Some of them will never go to a bigger club than this.
“If they want to stay here they have every chance but they have to continue to produce the goods. And that applies to everyone.”
Gabriel Agbonlahor is available for Sherwood after being sidelined for almost a month with a hamstring injury.
Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker remain out with knee injuries and are unlikely to be fit this season, meaning they are expected to miss the FA Cup final against Arsenal on May 30.
Before then, Villa go to Southampton and host Burnley in the final game of the season.
Sherwood admits relegation before the final is unthinkable. “That would be a disaster. The priority is the Premier League.”
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