Premier League Preview: How Liverpool Will Line Up Against Aston Villa
Having held on for a narrow 1-0 victory in the reverse fixture at Villa Park last August, Liverpool have built on their winning start to the season and become a fixture in the top four this season.
Villa, on the other hand, have not been in their best form of late, and in signing Wigan Athletic’s Grant Holt on loan this January, have acknowledged their weaknesses up front.
Here is how Brendan Rodgers’ side will line up against Paul Lambert’s on Saturday.
Goalkeeper: Simon Mignolet
Following a confident start to the season, Simon Mignolet has suffered from a few high-profile errors recently. Nevertheless, he remains a firm first choice.
Right-Back: Glen Johnson
Having sat through the Stoke City thriller on the bench last weekend at the Britannia Stadium, Martin Kelly could be in line to return to the first team against Villa this Saturday, but Rodgers will likely stick with his first choice, Glen Johnson.
It's a somewhat strange decision given Kelly’s apparent return to fitness and Johnson’s worrying loss of form this season. A right-back should surely figure in Rodgers’ transfer plans, if not this January, then surely in the summer.
Left-Back: Aly Cissokho
Having lost his place in the side to Jon Flanagan previously, Aly Cissokho had made an encouraging return to first-team action against Manchester City but has dipped alarmingly again.
His failure to close down on Stoke’s right flank meant that Mark Hughes’ side enjoyed an afternoon of space and time on that side, though thankfully Liverpool had enough in their tank to see the Potters off.
Cissokho keeps his place against Villa simply because Rodgers has no real alternative.
Centre-Back: Martin Skrtel
After yet another shirt-pulling performance in the heart of the Liverpool defence at the Britannia, Martin Skrtel brings his antics back to Anfield, and his duel with Christian Benteke will surely be a fascinating one.
Centre-Back: Kolo Toure
Kolo Toure started the season as a fixture in the first team but has slowly lost his place in the side following the rise of Mamadou Sakho and return to form of Daniel Agger.
Both are injured—though James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo reports that Sakho could return against Villa—and Toure will be starting for a second successive league match against Villa. He’ll have to keep in mind how easily Peter Crouch lost him for a clinical header last Sunday though.
Defensive Midfielder: Steven Gerrard
Gone are the days where Lucas anchors the Liverpool midfield.
These days it’s Steven Gerrard, who started the season by moving back towards a more withdrawn regista role. His latest redeployment by Brendan Rodgers means he moves even further back, almost as an auxiliary centre-back if need be.
Rodgers claimed, via ESPNFC, that Gerrard has the attributes to shine as a holding midfielder, but there’s still work to do for the Liverpool captain to adjust to a new role.
Central Midfielder: Lucas
Whether Lucas is a casualty or beneficiary of Gerrard’s move, only time will tell, but with Joe Allen reportedly back in contention for a first-team slot, the Brazilian will have to show that he can reprise his form as a box-to-box central midfielder for Gremio.
Otherwise, with non-specialist Gerrard moving into Lucas’ previously customary role and Allen playing the exact same position Lucas has been moved to, his next move might be towards the bench.
Attacking Midfielder: Jordan Henderson
It seems, curiously, that whenever Steven Gerrard is playing, Jordan Henderson goes quiet.
The confident, assertive midfield general that came alive during the Christmas period was strangely lacking in presence and stature at the Britannia last Sunday.
Villa represent an opportunity for him to show once again that he is fit to lead the midfield going forward, and that he should be traveling to Brazil with Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.
Right Forward: Raheem Sterling
Despite Daniel Sturridge’s scoring (and assisting) return to first-team action last weekend, Raheem Sterling keeps his place in Rodgers’ first team as deserved reward for his recent excellent form.
Deceptively strong for his size and rapidly maturing in his positioning and decision-making, Sterling will be looking to attack Antonio Luna every opportunity he gets on Saturday.
Left Forward: Philippe Coutinho
It’s almost been a year since Philippe Coutinho first arrived in England and dazzled the Premier League.
While his first five months were quite sensational, his first half of the 2013/14 campaign hasn’t been quite as fruitful; he’s particularly had trouble finishing off his exquisite moves with the all-important finish.
Given Sterling’s impressive form, Coutinho might be the forward to make way for Sturridge in the first team—as he did last Saturday as a substitute—unless Coutinho responds with a statement of a display against Villa.
Striker: Luis Suarez
After two goals and an assist against Stoke last Sunday, Luis Suarez is far and away the Premier League’s top scorer right now with 22 goals in just 16 games.
Quite possibly the best striker in Europe right now, don’t be surprised if Suarez notches another brace this weekend.