Liverpool travel to Birmingham to face newly-promoted Aston Villa as they look to maintain a six-point lead over Manchester City ahead of a potentially title-deciding clash next week.
Both clubs advanced to the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup during the week. A much-changed Villa side overcame Wolves by a score of 2-1. In the league they sit in 15th place — two points above the relegation zone.
The Reds’ first team squad was rested after beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. Youngsters produced a performance to remember, beating Arsenal on penalties after the game ended 5-5 in normal time and setting up a quarter-final tie against Saturday’s opposition.
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Aston Villa looked as if they were going to get something against Manchester City, keeping the champions at bay for the first half and missing a glorious chance to take the lead. Ederson saved well from Douglas Luiz after parrying John McGinn’s effort.
They conceded within a minute of the second half whilst nullify their hard work in the first half. Raheem Sterling slotted underneath Tom Heaton after Tyrone Mings played the winger through from an Ederson clearance. Goals from Kevin De Bruyne and İlkay Gündoğan compounded Aston Villa to their fifth defeat of the season.
Liverpool’s performance against Tottenham has gone under the radar. The Reds fell behind in the first minute after Harry Kane knocked in after Son Heung-min’s effort rebounded off the post. For the next 85 minutes it was all Liverpool — attack after attack they pegged Tottenham in their own penalty box.
Liverpool eventually found the back of the net. Jordan Henderson scored his first Anfield goal since Liverpool’s 2-2 draw with West Brom three years ago. A lot has changed since then.
Sadio Mané — who exemplifies Liverpool’s never say die attitude perfectly — won a second penalty in as many games at Anfield. Harassing Serge Aurier in the box, the Tottenham right-back conceded the penalty which Mohamed Salah calmly dispatched.
Aston Villa rested their more important players during the week. Of the eleven who played only Anwar El Ghazi and Douglas Luiz will likely have the chance to start against Liverpool. In terms of injuries they have no major doubts — captain Jack Grealish sat out of the cup game to nurse a muscle injury but is expected to start for the Villans.
Tom Heaton will start in goal. He has lost three of his last four games against the Reds, conceding nine while keeping only one clean sheet.
Björn Engels is the weakness in the Aston Villa defence. James Chester is Villa’s main choice, but he has just returned from injury and it would be very surprising to see him involved.
John McGinn and Jack Grealish are probably Aston Villa’s best players. McGinn is not afraid to hit them from distance, but he is also capable of timing his runs well into the box. Grealish is their main man, making them tick and is very tricky when he has the ball at his feet.
Wesley has four goals in his debut season. The striker signed from Club Brugge and has a different play style to your typical Brazilian striker. He is well built and using this physicality to bully his opponents in the box. Expect him to see him lurching next to Dejan Lovren on Saturday.
Liverpool will possibly return to the starting XI that beat Tottenham. The Reds dominated that game and restricted their opposition incredibly well. Paulo Gazzaniga kept up the tradition of a second-choice goalkeeper performing like Gianluigi Buffon on a day where it seemed it wasn’t going to be Liverpool’s day.
Klopp does have one big decision to make. Fabinho is at risk of suspension for the game against Manchester City, as if the Brazilian picks up another yellow card at Villa it would rule him out of that very important game.
The midfielder is usually composed in the centre of the park and you could trust him not to get a yellow. However, he would be too much of a miss at Anfield next week so I think he should this one sit out.
Georginio Wijnaldum has played in the No.6 role before and has done well. It would mean that another midfielder would have to in. James Milner played the full 90 against Arsenal while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came off with 10 to go. Villa are a good, compact side so the latter could be given the nod.
With such an important game next week, Liverpool must ensure the six-point gap is maintained. Winning at Villa Park will not be easy but, as we have seen over the past two years, Liverpool tend to make light work of getting results at tough grounds.
Fabinho will be a big miss if he sits out. His presence enables the Liverpool full-backs to bomb forward, With Gini in the No.6, they may have to choose the right times to go forward which is why having a player like Oxlade-Chamberlain in midfield would be important to help out going forward.
I think Liverpool will win, but Aston Villa may cause us a few problems and may even take the lead. I don’t think they will be able to cope with our fitness levels and will tire towards the end of the game.
Predicted final score: Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool