Villa Park, Birmingham
Saturday, August 24 2013, 17:30 GMT
The new season has well and truly begun, as teams and players new and old have familiarized themselves with each other and to the rigours of the Premier League. Having negotiated the toughest possible start to the league with away games at Arsenal and Chelsea, Aston Villa will finally play in front of their home support, hosting Liverpool at Villa Park. While supporters feared the worst when Olivier Giroud scored within five minutes at the Emirates, Aston Villa managed to organize themselves and pulled off one of the most shocking opening day victories in recent times. As if to prove that it was no fluke, they went to Stamford Bridge and put last season’s 8-0 thrashing behind them with a fighting display in a narrow defeat to Chelsea.
Meanwhile, for the first time in five years, Liverpool have begun the new season with the same manager as in the start of the previous season. Coincidentally, the Reds won an opening day fixture for the first time in five years. Liverpool carved chances at ease but struggled to put them away. But their newest goalkeeper Simon Mignolet sealed a victory at the dying moments with an important penalty save off Jon Walters. They now feel their way into the new season with a sense of cautious optimism.
Belgian goalkeeper Simon Mignolet weaved his way into the hearts of the Liverpool faithful by way of his last minute penalty save off Jon Walters on opening day. Fellow signing Kolo Toure joined the Reds on the back of a failed drugs test and a ‘part-time’ role at Manchester City. However, has looked good alongside against Daniel Agger and has done a fairly good job of marshalling the defence following the retirement of Jamie Carragher. José Enrique faces a tough challenge from Frenchman Aly Cissokho to retain his place in the starting lineup. Glen Johnson has fared reasonably well thus far, while the sight of Christian Benteke is likely to scare Brendan Rodgers off the thought of fielding Martin Škrtel, despite Sebastian Coates’ recent injury suffered on international duty.
Rodgers is likely to retain the midfield three of Gerrard, Lucas and Jordan Henderson that featured in the opening day victory over Stoke City. Joe Allen, on the other hand, has recovered from his shoulder injury and could make a substitute appearance in an effort to regain match fitness. Philippe Coutinho is one of the first names to be penciled into the team sheet, while Daniel Sturridge and Iago Aspas should retain their places in the squad. Italian Fabio Borini scored twice in a win over Manchester United U21s and has forced his way into the thoughts of the manager. Jordan Ibe and Raheem Sterling will be useful options from the bench.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Mignolet (GK); Johnson, K. Toure, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard, Henderson; Aspas, Sturridge, Coutinho
Supporters of Birmingham-based Aston Villa shuddered at the thought of a nightmare start to the 2013-14 season at the start of the transfer window, given that they were handed Arsenal (A), Chelsea (A) and Liverpool (H) as opponents for the first three games of their campaign. Christian Benteke handing in a transfer request made matters worse. However, manager Paul Lambert is a smart man. Not only did he convince the Belgian powerhouse to sign a contract extension, but he also added depth to the squad, making 7 summer signings thus far. Aston Villa have since started strong – they pulled off a 3-1 upset over Arsenal on the opening day, and put up a strong fight in a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea.
Brad Guzan will retain his place in goal. The American goalkeeper has successfully dislodged Shay Given to cement his place in the side under manager Paul Lambert. The Scotsman made use of a 3-5-2 for large parts of the 2012-13 season, but deployed a back four on opening day. However, a twisted ankle suffered by Englishman Nathan Baker that saw miss the game against Chelsea could also render him unavailable for the home opener against Liverpool. Irish defender Ciaran Clark should deputise in his place.
Aston Villa are likely to line up a three-man midfield against the Reds, with Ashley Westwood assuming playmaking responsibilities. He is likely to be supported by Dutchman Karim El Ahmadi and Fabian Delph. However, it is the front three that have proved to be most threatening thus far. Benteke may have scored 3 of Aston Villa’s 4 goals this season, but most of his success has been down to Gabriel Agbonlahor. The Englishman’s pace and stamina helped him bulldoze his way through Arsenal’s midfield to earn not one but two penalties. Andreas Weimann should take his place in the front three as he tries to regain match fitness after the hip injury he suffered last month. Summer arrivals Jores Okore, Aleksandar Tonev and Leandro Bacuna are likely to come off the bench against the Reds.
Probable Starting Lineup (4-3-3): Guzan (GK); Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Luna; El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph; Agbonlahor, Benteke, Weimann
- Liverpool have been unbeaten for the last 9 Premier League games, winning 5 of them.
- Since the start of pre-season, Liverpool have conceded just one goal.
- Christian Benteke has scored three of Aston Villa’s four goals this season.
Players to watch out for
Gabriel Agbonlahor (Aston Villa)
The Englishman’s pace and energy troubled the Arsenal backline on the opening day, and his presence was instrumental in winning not one but two penalties. He followed it up with a similar showing at Stamford Bridge, and it is evident that he is high on confidence. He is likely to line up against José Enrique on the right wing and must be on the top of his game once again. A strong performance will give the likes of Christian Benteke space in the final third, and provide goalscoring opportunities on the counter.
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
The outcome of a match does not often rest on the performance of one man but the Brazilian’s style of play and position means he holds the keys to the game. His positional sense and ability to close down opposition midfielders will be crucial at Villa Park, given that the Villans have already exhibited a masterclass in counterattacking at Arsenal. The Reds’ tendency to commit men forward could leave them light in midfield. Lucas was not match sharp in the infamous 3-1 drubbing last December, and his improvement was the crucial difference in Liverpool nicking a win at Villa Park in March. In order for Liverpool to come away with a win, Lucas must have a good game.
Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool
Many of the players in Villa’s squad have improved over the course of last season’s relegation battle, as they have shown a new-found confidence in their first two games. Liverpool would do well not to underestimate Villa, who shocked them last season. The Reds will enjoy a sizeable share of ball possession as Villa defend deep. While Christian Benteke is looked upon as the main threat, an improving Lucas Leiva should prove to be the vital difference between the two sides as he protects the defence and cuts off supply to the Belgian, while nipping counterattacks in the bud. Should Liverpool score an early goal, they will derive enough confidence to see out this fixture with a clean sheet.
Blast from the Past