Aston Villa v Liverpool: Parallels aplenty within two European Cup-winning clubs’ upward trajectories

Until relatively recently, this may have seemed an unnatural comparison to draw. In truth, there are plenty of grounds for saying that it remains so.

The Villans and the Reds are still in very different positions, with very different objectives. Liverpool are first in the Premier League — targeting the title and aiming to retain the Champions League this season, amongst other things.

Villa, meanwhile, are 15th, and primarily focused upon maintaining their recently regained top-flight status and enjoying cup runs like the one that has seen them draw the Merseysiders in the Carabao Cup quarter-finals. Yet their foundations — both long-term and more recently laid — remain uncannily similar.

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Major historical bookmarks for both can be found in the early 1980s, when the Birmingham outfit followed Bob Paisley’s side first as winners of the Division One title (1980 and 1981 respectively) and then as European champions (1981 and 1982 respectively). While there was notably more sustained success for the Reds during this time, both could justifiably view that period as the highest benchmark their club has set to date.

While the two clubs were often at similar levels towards the top end of the Premier League throughout the ‘90s and noughties, before they dipped and then diverged in the 2010s, recent history is inevitably the most relevant. More significantly, though, it is also the most relatable.

Liverpool may have been on their current path for longer, Dean Smith beginning his stint in Brum almost exactly three years after Klopp started his own at Anfield, but it does feel like there are certain shared key ingredients.


A Villa fan, Smith has galvanised the supporters in the 12-and-a-bit months since through both his passion for the cause and the performances of his team. There’s no need to ask if that sounds familiar, is there?

Villa Park has been rocking for the home games so far this season, particularly the victories over Everton and Brighton, in a way that hasn’t been seen consistently for a fair few years. The team and the crowd appear to be at their best when riding their respective waves. Both Villa and Liverpool can and do take an awful lot of pride in the heights their supporters can push them to on the pitch.

Tellingly, both sides also seemed to channel mutual pain felt on May 26, 2018, when Villa lost the Championship Play-off Final in the afternoon and Liverpool suffered defeat in the Champions League showpiece that evening, into the sweetest of successes on the same occasions a year later. These clubs and fans are all the more appreciative of the success after suffering such stinging set-backs at the final hurdle.

Hierarchical subtleties also appear worthy of their fair own share of the credit. Just as Liverpool shuffled the pack to make Michael Edwards their first sporting director in November 2016 — a role he has since thrived in as the club’s recruitment strategy has gone from strength-to-strength — the Villans appointed former Spanish winger Jesús Garcia Pitarch as their own upon Smith’s arrival, though it was admittedly a role that had been in place at the club since 2015.

Many of their own acquisitions since have been thoroughly handy. Tyrone Mings’ arrival on loan from Bournemouth in January — and then permanently in the summer — represents the standout, while fellow pre-season arrivals such as Belgian centre-back Björn Engels, French right-back Frédéric Guilbert and Brazilian forward Wesley all appear to have aided Villa’s top-flight transition.

These are two clubs who seem to have regained the identities they looked to have misplaced in the early years of this decade. Perhaps most importantly, they have done so while simultaneously morphing them into an efficient, modern shape.

The heart — and mind — of both feel like they’re back in the peak condition that helped make this one of English football’s most consistently engaging fixtures in years gone by. With that in mind, this meeting feels all the more enticing.

James Noble

Contributor. 20-year-old uni student studying sports journalism. Southern Red.

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