A crutch for Liverpool over the course of the past few seasons, Aston Villa return to Anfield without Christian Benteke. Of course, Liverpool won’t have access to the big centre forward either, who is out for the next two fixtures with a hamstring injury. Villa are back at home in 17th place, just above the drop zone and just below an underperforming Liverpool side. As expected, this home fixture is a big one for manager Brendan Rodgers.
But, at this point, they all are.
Neither side looks very good right now, but only Liverpool are really expected to. Two 1-1 draws precede this match: home to Norwich in the league and again at Anfield against League Two minnows Carlisle United. As a fan, that last sentence was very difficult to write.
As many have mentioned, the attack has begun to look better without actually becoming quality. The interchange between the likes of Phillipe Coutinho, Christian Benteke, and Daniel Sturridge has transitioned into a kind-of dull spearhead: it’s clearly dangerous, just not quite polished enough to hurt anyone.
In the first two fixtures of a four-match home stretch, the Reds have managed to neatly tuck one away. But even against a side that’s three leagues inferior to the Premier League, they haven’t managed a clean sheet since the Arsenal match. Shifting to a three centre-back formation once again, the defence looked far superior last weekend than it had for the previous few. But further improvement is imperative if Rodgers would like to maintain his current position.
On both ends of the pitch, Liverpool are having troubles. But the current squad status of Aston Villa might turn out favorable of the Reds. Missing from the Villans’ side are Idrissa Gueye, Gabriel Agbonlahor, and James Okore, among others. Gueye has begun his first Premier League campaign with aplomb, only injury slowing him down. Agbonlahor will mean less threatening pace going at the Liverpool back line, and Okore is a quality centre-back that will definitely be missed at the weekend.
Also important is Villa’s start to the current campaign. Having not recorded a single win since opening day, Aston Villa find themselves in a desperate situation. Since Liverpool are in the same boat, a win here is imperative for both sides.
Though Adam Bogdan was huge during the weekend League Cup match, Mignolet will surely retain his starting position at the weekend. The reintroduced 3-4-1-2 should remain against Aston Villa. The injury against Carlisle means Mamadou Sakho will be a guarantee. He’ll be starting at the back Martin Skrtel and Emre Can playing on the right.
The midfield will comprise surprisingly without Joe Allen, who returned from injury for the first time this season on Wednesday. Not quite ready for league action, Lucas Leiva will pair with James Milner while the fan base anxiously awaits the return of captain Jordan Henderson. Nathaniel Clyne and Alberto Moreno should stay as the wing-backs. Particularly from the left, the wide play has vastly improved in the past week, and Rodgers will definitely not want to mess up that groove.
With the injury to Christian Benteke, the two Danny’s should start in front of Coutinho. Ings’ two goals in the past two matches will be enough for the starting shout while Sturridge will look to get his groove back.
Even with injuries to some new players, Aston Villa start with six fresh faces compared to the usual squad last year. The Unluckiest Keeper in Football, fellow American Brad Guzan, will start in goal. New signing and captain Micah Richards will pair with Ciaran Clark at centre-back with Jordan Amavi and Alan Hutton at full-backs.
Gueye will be missed in the midfield, but the rest have performed well enough over the last few matches. Carlos Sanchez will play the deepest role while Ashley Westwood and Jordan Veretout will be the ball carriers going forward.
Rudy Gestede’s form since joining from Blackburn Rovers has been impressive, effectively making the Agbonlahor injury less meaningful. He’ll be surrounded by wingers, much the same way Benteke was when he was at the club. Those wide players should be two new signings: Jordan Ayew and Scott Sinclair.
It’s tough to call a win for Liverpool at all this season, but the state of affairs at Aston Villa makes it a little easier. We’ve got one coming, ladies and gentleman, and my goodness, this surely is it. At home, against a damage Villa that’s having a tough start to the season…I’m going to call it 2-0. Somehow, probably because the witchcraft I perform an hour before kick-off, we’ll manage another clean sheet here. The extra man at the back will help secure Mignolet in goal. Ings makes it three in three with a Moreno surprise goal from the left.