Can Young and Downing help Villa pull clear?
Fresh from encouraging displays for England against Wales and Ghana during the past week, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing must now focus on the small task of keeping Aston Villa in the Premier League.
The wingers have perhaps been the chief beneficiaries of England boss Fabio Capello's change in tactics, which has seen him opt for a 4-3-3 system, giving more fluidity to a side often criticised for being too rigid.
Striker Darren Bent also enhanced his reputation by scoring against Wales last Saturday and with these three Villa players seemingly in form, plus others in the England Under-21s, it begs the question why manager Gerard Houllier's side are only a point above the relegation zone in 14th place in the Premier League.
Stories of unrest in the Villa camp have been batted away by the Frenchman and keeper Brad Friedel, but following a recent spat involving centre-backs James Collins and Richard Dunne it appears that not all has been well at times this season.
Under former boss Martin O'Neill, Villa were renowned as a counter-attacking team and last season they achieved relative success by reaching the Carling Cup final and finishing sixth in the Premier League.
A lack of funds was believed to be the chief reason why O'Neill walked away, and although Houllier has added the likes of Bent and Robert Pires to his ranks, he has also tried to apply his own methods in what is turning into a transitional season at best.
O'Neill's team evolved into one which was built on a solid defence, where the likes of Young, Downing and Gabriel Agbonlahor could use their pace to burst forward.
This season that stability has disappeared. Villa have scored just 1.23 goals per game in the Premier League this season compared with 1.7 last term.
But whereas they had the fourth meanest defence under O'Neill last season with only 39 goals conceded from 38 games, this time they have let in 51 goals in 30 matches.
More alarming has been the manner in which Villa have conceded goals. Only West Bromwich Albion have allowed in more goals at set-plays.
Bizarrely, after the 3-2 defeat by Bolton earlier this month, Houllier seemed to blame the previous regime for this. "We were naive from set-pieces and it's not the first time we have conceded from them," he said.
"The players have had certain habits for four years and I'm not going to change them in the middle of the season."
Houllier was appointed in September, but even though the 63-year-old favours a more possession-based approach, he has perhaps ignored the bedrock of Villa's recent progress.
That being the case, more may be needed of Young and Downing, who have 12 Premier League goals and 12 assists between them.
Evidence shows that Villa still score a hefty proportion of their goals from crosses, with only Wolves registering more in this way, and Downing is the league's most prolific crosser of the ball this season.
His success rate of 22% is way behind Tottenham's Aaron Lennon, however, who finds team-mates with 30% of his deliveries, and if Young is preferred in more central areas as he has been in recent games, then that supply may be further reduced.
Houllier now has eight games to save Villa's season but the longer it takes for his methods to take root, the more his side seem in danger.
But before they face Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, he is confident they have the strongest squad among the relegation candidates and will therefore be able to pull clear.
"From goalkeeper to centre-forward, we have everything it takes to do well," he said.
After an international break in which the likes of Young, Downing and Bent only enhanced their reputations, Villa fans will hope they can continue their form in the crucial games that follow.
But it may be the centre of Houllier's defence which holds the key to their survival.