19 April, 2015, 15.00 BST
Wembley Stadium, London
Liverpool and Aston Villa take each other on in the semi-final of the FA Cup at the Wembley and will be embroiled in a feisty contest. A trophy remains Liverpool’s only hope for success this season as their top-4 hopes are all but over. Brendan Rodgers is hunting for his first silverware as Liverpool boss and this could be his final shot as nothing to show for “success” in the summer could well lead to a change in the summer. Meanwhile, Aston Villa have come back on track in the recent weeks and Tim Sherwood has done a good job with his new team.
Team News & Tactics
Liverpool will welcome back Martin krtel and Steven Gerrard from suspension. While Martin Skrtel will be reinstated in the line-up immediately, it is unlikely that Gerrard gets a nod to start the match. Mamadou Sakho and Adam Lallana are certain absentees, and Daniel Sturridge is a doubt.
Playing the 4-3-3 system in the last two matches, due to the significant injury list, has worked for Brendan Rodgers. In fact, the Reds looked very good employing the system against Newcastle United. With Sakho out, Rodgers is likely to continue in similar manner. Emre Can and Martin Skrtel will start as centre-backs with Glen Johnson and Alberto Moreno will start alongside as full-backs. Ahead of them a midfield trio of Lucas, Jordan Henderson and Joe Allen is expected. In case Steven Gerrard gets a nod to start the game, Allen could be receded to the bench. With Jordan Ibe cup-tied, Lazar Markovic is expected to start on the right wing.
In the 3-4-2-1 system which brought Liverpool back on track this season, Rodgers made an important change of playing Sterling as the false nine in the absence of Sturridge. After two disappointing results against Manchester United and Arsenal which put the Reds out of the running of the top-4 spots, Rodgers played Philippe Coutinho as a false nine against Newcastle and Liverpool’s attack looked much better than it has recently. Coutinho dropped back and exploited the small spaces offered to him. He formed a great partnership with Sterling who started on the left-wing. Coutinho was constantly moving and creating things, also holding a high attacking position throughout. Coutinho made the Newcastle defenders extremely uncomfortable with his movement. Brendan Rodgers will probably employ the same tactic against Villa, with Daniel Sturridge almost certainly unlikely to feature in the game, let alone start.
The FA Cup represents a final opportunity for Liverpool to do something good to sustain the progress that started last season. Of course despite the win, there is a matter of the final a month later, but getting there will itself lift the Reds for the remaining campaign and prove essential in their quest to end the season on a high.
Probable Line-up (4-3-3): Mignolet; Johnson, Can, Skrtel, Moreno; Lucas, Henderson, Allen; Markovic, Coutinho, Sterling
Aston Villa FC
Tim Sherwood has to deal with some absentees and also has players returning. Centre-back Ciaran Clark is injured and Philippe Senderos remains a doubt along with former Liverpool left-back Aly Cissokho, Alan Hutton and Ashley Westwood. Carlos SA?nchez will be missing due to suspension. The team will be however, boosted with the return of Ron Vlaar and Nathan Baker.
Villa, who looked like they were definitely going down at one point this season, suddenly look like a bright, cohesive unit. Their turn around under Sherwood was illustrated by a 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur. The biggest threat Villa have currently is striker Christian Benteke who has scored five goals in the last three league matches. In fact, since Sherwood took over, Benteke is the top scorer in the Premier League with eight goals (in six matches). The former Spurs manager has done a good job in setting up the side to play to Benteke’s strengths. They are getting the ball up to him and they’re successfully creating far more chances from a visibly direct style. The Belgian possesses the skills to win the game for Villa single-handedly, especially if the Reds are having a bad day.
For Aston Villa to win the game, they will have to make sure the Reds can’t play their pressing game. If they’re not given the opportunity to press early on and if Sherwood’s side can counter-press them somehow, they have a good chance of winning the game. Villa’s counter-attacking style which has won them a few games against Liverpool recently, could again help them against Rodgers side this time.
Probable Line-up (4-3-2-1) Given; Bacuna, Vlaar, Baker, Richardson; Delph, Cleverly, N’Zogbia; Agbonlahor, Grealish; Benteke
- Liverpool and Villa have met in a FA Cup semi-final on three previous occasions, with the Villans winning in 1897 and Liverpool progressing in 1914 and 1996. Villa went on to win the trophy, while Liverpool were beaten in the final on both occasions.
- Villa’s most recent FA Cup triumph back in 1957 was then a competition-record seventh victory.
- This is Liverpool’s 24th appearance in an FA Cup semi-final – only Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton have played in more.
- They have lost just one of their last nine semi-finals.
- The seven-time winners’ last appearance in an FA Cup final was in 2012 when they lost to Chelsea 2-1, and they last won it in 2006.
Player to look out for
Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)
As already mentioned, Aston Villaa s biggest threat has to be Christian Benteke, someone who surprisingly didn’t do very well in the first part of the season under Lambert. However, he looks his threatening best under Tim Sherwood recently and his return to his former prolific self has got him involved in the transfer rumors as well. He is likely to cause plenty of trouble to Skrtel and makeshift defender Emre Can. Supported by the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor, who will be up against Alberto Moreno if he starts on the right, he too can be influential in Villa’s performance.
Liverpool 2 Aston Villa 1
Expect a hard fought victory for Brendan Rodgers side, who would be desperate to get a result on the day because this remains their only hope for a happy ending this season and the emotional value of getting Steven Gerrard the perfect send-off will also drive them. But Villa are likely to cause them plenty of trouble through the 90 minutes, and Liverpool will probably only edge their opponents.