Match Preview: Aston Villa vs Liverpool
Relegation threatened Aston Villa welcome European chasing Liverpool to Villa Park, for what is a pretty critical fixture for both teams. Villa are now in the relegation zone, behind Wigan on goal difference, and face a desperate fight for survival in the Premier League. Liverpool are six points behind sixth placed Everton, and are looking to claim a Europa League spot at best, for next season, and will have to win games like this one to continue the progress under Brendan Rodgers.
Villa beat Liverpool 3-1 in December at Anfield, a game that the Reds completely dominated, only to be undone by their poor finishing and the clinical edge of Villa’s star striker Christian Benteke, who bagged a brace.
The trident of Darren Bent, Nathan Baker and Karim El Mahadi are set to return after spells on the sidelines, but among the trio only Baker is likely to walk into the starting eleven. Young prospect Fabian Delph is back as well, after sitting out the last two games due to suspension. Ciaran Clark and Brett Holman picked up slight knocks while away on international duty, and their condition will be assessed before the game.
Other than the injury scares, Paul Lambert will pin his hopes on his forward trio of Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann to get a result for the hosts.
Joe Allen is set to miss the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery, and the veteran duo of Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina are set to make their returns to the line-up. Carragher’s return will have the supporters breathing easily, given Skrtel’s atrocious performance against Soton.
Liverpool have no other new injuries to fret over, with Fabio Borini and Martin Kelly suffering from long-term problems.
Aston Villa have won their last two games on the bounce, against QPR and Reading, their first consecutive victories this season. Villa haven’t won three on the trot for three years now, and will be hard pressed to complete the hat-trick against a wounded Liverpool side. The Reds have won four of their last five games in all competitions, but suffered a rather embarrassing 3-1 loss at Southampton two weeks back, a match in which the entire team was pretty much culpable of putting in a poor shift.
With their European aspirations slipping away slowly, the Reds need to get back on track and close the gap on Everton. They will look to the the mercurial Luis Suarez to lead their offensive line against the Villains. Looking to put his international shenanigans behind him, Suarez has a point to prove, after a poor performance by his standards at Soton.
Suarez has been forming an excellent partnership with Sturridge and Phillipe Coutinho, and the goals seem to be flowing for the Reds nowadays. Villa captain Ron Vlaar has been dealing with Suarez since his days in Holland, and the former Feyenoord defender knows just how difficult the league’s trickiest player is to contain.
The hosts will rely on Belgian sensation Benteke, who’s been Villa’s knight in shining armour this season. Having scored a brace at Anfield, Agger and Carragher would be wise to closely monitor and control the young forward, as he would look to break on the counter-attack along with his fellow front men. Brad Guzan will be Villa’s most crucial player on Sunday, and will surely have to deal with a barrage of Red shirts constantly attacking his goal.
Guzan performed exceptionally well the last time the sides met, and also dished out a tremendous performance against Mexico over the international break for the USA. Steven Gerrard also needs to be monitored, as the Reds skipper is enjoying a fantastic campaign. The defence is the weak spot for Liverpool, and individual errors have been the side’s main thorn this season. Lucas has playing like a liability since his return, and it is well known how Benteke can capitalize on mistakes.
- Villa have lost just one of their last four league games against Liverpool, last season at Villa Park.
- Villa are looking to complete a double over Liverpool for the first time in 20 years, since the 1992-93 season.
- Liverpool have only lost one league match at Villa Park since 1998.
- The Reds have scored the most number of goals in the league in 2013 – 26 goals.
- Liverpool haven’t beaten a side from the Midlands this year, having drawn one and lost four.
A man is most dangerous when he is pushed into a corner, and that certainly applies to Villa. Relegation is a powerful motivational tool, and the home side will give the visitors everything they have, but the superior quality of the Reds should pull through in the end. It will be a tightly fought contest, with the Reds just about jumping over to the finish line.
Aston Villa 2-3 Liverpool