Villa Park, Birmingham
Sunday, 22nd March, 2011, 16:00 BST
So it has boiled down to this; a London side and a club from the North West looking to cross that finishing line that would take them to Europe. The fate of both teams lies in the hands of two clubs hailing from the midlands – Aston Villa and Birmingham. As the Blues travel to North London in their quest for survival for next season, the Reds from Merseyside will make the trip to Villa Park hoping to seal qualification for next season’s Europa League campaign. The stakes are high, the season is ending, Aston Villa versus Liverpool promises to be a cracker!
Villa is currently on the 13th spot and a win against Liverpool would land them in contention to finish into the top half of the table. Having suffered just one loss in their last 6 Premier League games, coupled with the victory against Arsenal last week, caretaker manager Gary McAllister would not really pull the blanket of trepidation over him this weekend. And if this wasn’t enough, then the presence of ex-Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier in the stands would surely send out positive vibes across Villa Park. The Villa manager has been out of the scene after being diagnosed with a heart problem earlier this season but his love and zest for the game has surely played a huge part in his return. Aston Villa would be looking to take this impetus in full capacity and finish their home season on a high by defeating a team that has risen from an abyss of emptiness.
A Man Who Has Walked Both Grounds
The Liverbird at Merseyside has manifested into a Phoenix this season. Having being brought down to nothing, the team rose at the turn of 2011 and once again has come to the precipice of European qualification. Many thought this would be impossible but when you have a mix of reliable owners genuinely looking out for the club and its success along with a management that vessel a rich tactical nous, then success is hard to keep at bay. A victory against Tottenham last week would have strengthened Liverpool’s chances of featuring in Europa League next season but having lost at home, they now have to bite the bullet and return with a bang by beating the Villans at their home ground. Going by their recent run of results, one would expect Liverpool to come through but then again, the form curve has seen a few dips here and there. Hence it is best to approach assumption with caution.
Team News and Tactical Brief
McAllister has no injury qualms walking into the final game of this season so expect a full strength squad against the Reds. Cameroon international Jean II Makoun, however, will be missing the game since he has to fly back home to attend a family emergency. Twenty-One year old defender Ciaran Clark also makes his return to the squad after recovering from a back injury albeit he will be benched for the game.
Star striker Darren Bent has been in fine form since his move from Tottenham and the Villans will be hoping he could add to his goal tally and help his side finish on a high. The England striker is regarded as one of the best finishers in the box and there is no doubt that fans will get a chance to see the mix of temperament, composure and positional sense that Darren Bent is.
McAllister is likely to announce an unchanged side from last weekend’s game against Arsenal. The presence of Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing and Young is never easy to deal with; and for a side that has not won against Liverpool on home ground since 1998, one would reckon this would be the perfect opportunity for Villa to make a new entry in their books of history. The Villans gave Arsenal a shock last weekend when Bent netted the ball twice in the space of 4 minutes. The important thing however, was the way Aston Villa approached the game to begin with. Domination and stricter passing in the opening minutes of the game rewarded the Villans with not one, but two goals. After that it was just a question of staying put and making sure Arsenal aren’t on the rise at any point.
The same behavior is expected against Liverpool this Sunday. Since Kenny’s and Clarke’s appointment, the team has been trying to cultivate consistency in tempo and style. So far they have made tremendous progress but unexpected lows in certain games have hampered Liverpool’s chances of edging back into the top 4. Villa will look to capitalize on this and if they do, then it is going to be hard for the Reds to stage a comeback.
Probable Starting Lineup: Friedel, Luke Young, Dunne, Walker, Collins, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing, Delph, Bent, Ashley Young.
Probable Starting Lineups
Although each and every Liverpool player would be itching to make it past Tottenham and into Europe, the fact that they rose the ladder to reach 6th when this has been one of the most open seasons in Premier League history is testament to Liverpool’s ethos of not giving up when in the doldrums and providing support to each other when the team is in dire straits.
Two names likely to be crossed off the injury list are Raul Meireles and Fabio Aurelio. Meireles, who had earlier picked up an injury in the game against Fulham missed the important game against Tottenham last weekend but is back in contention for a starting berth. Brazilian left back Aurelio is also back in squad after shaking off a thigh injury. Both the players however, will be in the starting lineup provided they are match fit. Milan Jovanovic, Martin Kelly, Daniel Agger and club captain Steven Gerrard continue to nurse their injuries as they have been ruled out for the season.
Going by the 4-4-2 formation that Dalglish fielded against Tottenham last week, there was very little that the starting XI could deliver. A part of the problem here, is the absence of a winger to feed Carroll. Carroll and Suarez do look like a fearful pair but for this partnership to reach fruition, it will take a wee bit more time. Hence, the absence of a winger now is hurting Liverpool and its 35 million pound Geordie. If last week’s mistakes are to be turned around, then players like Kuyt, Maxi and maybe even Suarez have to contribute to help Carroll deliver that blow. With a little more flair and urgency like they showed in the game against Fulham, Liverpool will definitely be the stronger of the two teams at Villa Park.
Probable Starting XI: Reina, Carragher, Skrtel, Johnson, Flanagan, Spearing, Lucas, Maxi, Kuyt, Suarez, Carroll.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Brad Friedel (Aston Villa)
Friedel has been the unsung hero of Villa Park this season and is responsible for several key victories that the Villans have secured so far. Judging by Liverpool’s hunger to clinch the 5th spot, expect shots on goal coming in from all directions. It is going to be hard day on the field for the ex-Liverpool goalkeeper.
Brad Could Prove Decisive
Aston Villa 0 – 3 Liverpool
Liverpool aren’t going to get any more chances after this weekend. Hence it is imperative that Dalglish’s team play out of their skins if they wish to see continental football next season. Luck ofcourse, will have to play its role but the Reds cannot afford a loss if they are to clinch the 5th spot. It has been a good second half of the season and qualifying for Europe will be the icing on the cake.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST