January 18th, 2014; 17:30 BST
Liverpool will be very confident of holding on to their place among the top four when Aston Villa visit the red part of Merseyside on Saturday. Liverpool came out as winners in their last away game, an 8-goal thriller at Stoke City. With Luis Suarez in red-hot form and his partner-in-crime Daniel Sturridge looking ravenous for goals after his injury break, Liverpool will look to outgun Villa on Saturday at home.
Aston Villa, currently lying in mid-table will look to get on a winning run to pull them away from the relegation dog fight. With 4 defeats in their last 6 games, the latest set-back coming against Arsenal, Villa will be hoping for a miracle to come away with all the 3 points from Anfield.
Team news and tactics
Brendan Rodgers will be elated to see his beloved ‘SAS’ partnership work once again in tandem, after a gap of one month in the topsy- turvy game against Stoke City at the Brittania stadium. He will look to accommodate both of them up front with a traditional 4-4-2 formation or a 4-2-3-1 with Suarez and Sterling on both flanks and Coutinho playing in the hole. The Reds will try to intimidate Villa and put them out of the game as early as possible. Steven Gerrard will once again continue to operate in the holding role with Lucas, Coutinho and Henderson supporting the attackers in Suarez and Sturridge. Joe Allen and Mamadou Sakho may start the game from the bench as they return from their injuries. Brendan Rodgers will find it very tough to name his starting eleven and there won’t be any surprises if one among Lucas, Sterling or Coutinho ends up warming the bench. Rodgers may even opt to go with the 4-3-3 formation that he experimented with, at the start of last season, with Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge forming the front three.
Rodgers will be wary about the counter-attacking threat that Aston Villa possess with the likes of Agbonlahor, Weimann and Albrighton. Gerrard may sit back and cover his central defenders to thwart the counter attacks. The Liverpool full-backs in Glen Johnson and Aly Cissokho, who have been disappointing so far this season, have to be vigilant throughout the 90 minutes to stop Agbonloahor and Albrighton from getting in behind them.
Expected started line-up (4-2-3-1): Mignolet (GK); Johnson, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Coutinho, Suarez; Sturridge.
Paul Lambert has had a disappointing season so far. A lot was expected of Villa after the opening-day win at The Emirates. It has been a downward spiral for Villa since then and Lambert will hope to revitalize his club with new additions in the January transfer window. The Scot’s comments about the FA Cup did not go well with the fans and Villa’s ignominious exit against Sheffield has made matters worse for the Midlands club. The Villa fans, to their credit, have been very patient with their manager so far and will try to inspire their players to a top-half finish.
Grant Holt, on loan from Wigan Athletic in the championship, has joined forces with Paul Lambert once again and the Scot will be hoping to replicate his form from his days as a Canary to his Aston Villa career. It remains to be seen, if Holt will partner Benteke up front. Paul Lambert has a lot of injury concerns with Charles N’Zogbia, Jores Okore and Libor Kozak all side lined with long-term injuries. Nathan Baker was forced off the pitch after a mild concussion on Monday night, but he should be fit to feature against Liverpool. Christian Benteke scored his first goal in 13 games in the second-half resurgence against Arsenal at Villa Park last Monday. Paul Lambert will be hoping for his giant Belgian to add to his tally against a shaky Liverpool defence, which has had only 2 clean sheets in its last 10 games. Villa will look to hit the Reds on the counter-attack and exploit Liverpool’s vulnerability at set–pieces to score goals.
Aston Villa used a 3-5-2 formation against Arsenal with Agbonlahor and Benteke starting upfront. Paul Lambert will use the same tactics against Liverpool and will flood the midfield with more bodies to combat Liverpool’s creative force. Benteke will be Villa’s focal point with Agbonlahor and Delph supporting him. Grant Holt may feature against the Reds at one point of time in the game and one can hope for a wrestling match during set-pieces with Skrtel in the mix.
Expected starting line-up (3-5-2): Guzan (GK); Lowton, Vlaar, Clark; Luna, Bacuna, Delph, Westwood, El Ahmadi; Benteke, Agbonlahor
- Liverpool haven’t beaten Aston Villa at home in their last two attempts. Christian Benteke was instrumental in Villa`s shock win at Anfield last season.
- Aston Villa striker Christian Benteke has scored his first Premier League goal for 14 hours and 45 minutes against Arsenal on Monday.
- The Reds have kept only two clean-sheets in their last ten matches in the premiership.
- Liverpool have now scored 4+ goals in six Premier League games this season, a total only Manchester City can match.
Player to watch out for
Luis Suarez (Liverpool)
Liverpool’s talisman has been in red-hot form this season and has been pivotal in Liverpool’s strong showing this term. Sure, he has had good support from his team mates but Luis Suarez has made the difference for Liverpool till now. The Uruguayan averages 1.375 goals per game this season and one won’t be surprised if he ends up smashing Andy Cole`s record of 34 goals in a single Premiership season. Liverpool’s number 7 will fancy his chances of adding to his 22 goal tally against a leaky Villa defence on Saturday.
Liverpool 3-1 Aston Villa
Liverpool will look to avenge the disappointing loss against Villa in this fixture last season and the likes of Suarez, Sturridge and co. will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing against Aston Villa. A goal fest cannot be ruled out, and if Aston Villa manages to get on the score-sheet pretty early, one can expect a thrilling encounter between these two sides with rich history and tradition.