Liverpool welcome a relegation-threatened Aston Villa to Anfield as they look to bounce back after a disappointing loss in midweek.
The Reds were on the receiving end of a humbling 4-0 defeat at the hand of Man City. The Reds made a strong start but once the home side scored the flood gates opened. It mattered not in terms of league placing, though the matter of the defeat was quite concerning – even if half the team seemed hungover.
Aston Villa also suffered a defeat as the prospect of relegation looms large for the midlands club. A single late goal proved to be the difference against Wolves, leaving Dean Smith’s side with one game fewer to escape from danger.
Liverpool went to the Etihad as confirmed champions, but it was clear early on that a few of the players were not up to scratch. The Reds started the game brightly as they dominated against a weakened City side – Salah struck the post early on as the visitors looked dangerous in every wave of attack.
But it was the home side who took the lead. Joe Gomez fouled Raheem Sterling in the box with Kevin de Bruyne scoring from the resulting penalty. Sterling himself made it two shortly after turning Gomez inside out. Once they conceded the second, Liverpool heads dropped and Phil Foden made it three before half time.
City’s dominance continued in the second half, though Liverpool could have pulled one back through Sadio Mané but the No.10 opted to leave the ball roll to Ederson rather than shoot. Sterling made it four just after the hour to finish the rout, and it could have been five in stoppage time when Riyad Mahrez’s near post shot evaded Alisson but was disallowed for a handball in the build-up.
Aston Villa are in the midst of a relegation battle as they face a huge task to save their Premier League status in the remaining games. They have failed to win since the restart, picking up only two points in four games.
Their most recent match saw them lose 1-0 to Wolves. Villa rarely threatened in attack as Jack Grealish’s weak effort from 20 yards proved to be the home side’s only effort on goal. Wolves opened up the Villa defence countless times but failed to test goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland who has proved to be a nervous wreck in goal since being promoted to the starting line-up.
Matt Doherty, Pedro Neto and Raúl Jiménez all came close to opening the scoring, but the trio’s effort failed to find the target. Villa conceded within minutes of Adama Traoré being subbed on – the powerful winger burst past three players with the ball eventually dropping to Leander Dendoncker who found the bottom corner from 18 yards to give the away side three points.
James Milner should be fit enough to return to the starting line-up and may replace Andy Robertson at left-back due to his uncharacteristic performance at the Etihad.
With Joël Matip and Dejan Lovren sidelined through injury, Joe Gomez might just keep his place after his own horror show, though Ki-Jana Hoever could be a left-field option to partner Virgil van Dijk. Similarly, Neco Williams has an outside chance of replacing Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Naby Keïta is set to start ahead of Georginio Wijnaldum alongside Jordan Henderson and Fabinho in midfield. The Dutchman’s performances have not been what you would expect from him since the restart and he could pay the price by being dropped for this one.
Divock Origi could be set to start in order to give one of the front three a rest. Takumi Minamino could also benefit from Roberto Firmino’s indifferent form.
Dean Smith has confirmed that Matt Targett will be unavailable for selection for the match at Anfield. The left-back is on the treatment table alongside Wesley, Björn Engels, Frédéric Guilbert, which rules the quartet out for the match.
He also has a big decision to make in terms of the goalkeeper position. Ørjan Nyland has made a few high-profile mistakes, but they have yet to be punished.
He carried the ball into the net against Sheffield United but due to an error with Hawkeye the goal was not given, while at Wolves he threw the ball at Neto who fired over with just the ‘keeper to beat. Pepe Reina is an option, but the ex-Liverpool player stopper has not played competitively for almost four months.
With a number of defensive absentees, Neil Taylor, Tyrone Mings, Kortney Hause and Ezri Konsa are likely to form a back four. Villa have the joint-worst defence in the league conceding 60 goals, but we know from the reverse fixture that they are a compact team.
In midfield John McGinn will likely play alongside Douglas Luiz and the superbly-named Marvelous Nakamba. Despite the club’s position in the table they do have a decent midfield – both McGinn and Luiz have played well this season and, when the duo play together, Villa usually play well.
Another player who has earned plaudits this season is Jack Grealish. The skipper has been playing in a free role further up the pitch and that will continue here, probably flanked by Mbwana Samatta and Anwar El Ghazi.
Liverpool need to bounce back from the City result. Losing in that manner is not a good look considering we beat them to the title just a week before. Villa at home is a game in which we should get the three points, but they have had a full week’s rest which may make it trickier.
The match between the two sides earlier on in the season showed that Villa are not an easy team to play against when they are up for it. They frustrated Liverpool and almost came away with three points, thwarted by late strikes from Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané.
I think we will find it quite easy to get chances at Anfield, but putting them away is the most important part. Liverpool should win comfortably and Mo Salah will be important to that as he looks to win a third consecutive Premier League Golden Boot award.
Predicted final score: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
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