On one hand, Aston Villa will come into their game with some confidence. After all, when last these teams met, Liverpool beat the Villains by a 1-0 score, but Aston Villa was a late Christian Benteke penalty attempt away from earning a draw.
Instead, Simon Mignolet rose to the challenge and made a huge save, preserving the victory.
On the other hand, that game was at Villa Park. And Luis Suarez was still suspended. And Aston Villa come into this match having lost six of eight games. And, well, Liverpool have been playing excellent football since and have won seven of nine.
So maybe the Villains won't be feeling so great about this matchup after all.
When: Saturday, January 18 at 12:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. GMT
Where: Anfield, Liverpool, England
Odds: Liverpool (64.6 percent), Aston Villa (14.6 percent) and draw (20.8 percent), according to Bloomberg Sports
Benteke finally broke his goal-scoring drought against Arsenal, his fifth goal of the season (in 16 games), but his first in 11 Premier League contests. As Kevin Hughes of ESPN notes, anything less than Benteke's best in this game will spell trouble for Villa:
Villa's strikers have lost their finishing touch, and without that, the chances of the club repeating that victory on Saturday look slim. The balance of the game will almost certainly mirror that of 13 months ago, with Liverpool chiefly in control and Villa seeking to counter effectively. Unless there's a dramatic transformation in Villa's approach, chances will be at a premium, and Lambert's team will have to rediscover their sharpness and make every opening count.
Lambert will have been heartened by Benteke's goal against Arsenal; anywhere near his best, and the striker makes a world of difference to the team. Aside from that, the Villa manager has to work out a way to contain Liverpool's multiple attacking options—starting with the near-impossible task of subduing Suarez—and ensure his side get a shot at winning the game.
Speaking of Suarez, he's only been the Premier League's best player this season. His 22 goals and five assists in just 16 appearances is astonishing. His 8.76 average match rating from WhoScored is easily the best in the Premier League. And his partnership with Daniel Sturridge has been the most dangerous in the league this year.
Sturridge has been no slouch himself, with 10 goals and three assists in 11 appearances. That's earned him a 7.53 average match rating from WhoScored, 10th best in the league. And his manager, Brendan Rodgers, feels he'll one day reach the heights of his veteran teammate, Suarez, as he told Andy Hunter of The Guardian:
Daniel has a wonderful opportunity over the next few years to become world class. He has every tool and every quality he needs to be as [good] as Suarez. If he stays clear of injury and stays on the field he can achieve that. It signified how hard he'd worked while he was out that he could come straight into the game at Stoke and make such a big impact.
That impact was a goal and an assist upon his return. Good luck, Aston Villa.
And good luck beating Liverpool at home. The Reds have won nine and lost just once in 10 Premier League games at Anfield. Meanwhile, Villa have taken 15 of a possible 30 points on the road, which is actually a very promising mark, and better than the paltry eight they've managed at home.
So maybe they do have a chance. Maybe.
For Villa to win, Benteke basically has to revert to his form from a year ago, and he and Gabby Agbonlahor have to outplay Suarez and Sturridge. That's not a huge ask or anything, huh?
Don't expect Liverpool to drop points in this one. Aston Villa will play them tough, but Liverpool is simply too good right now to lose this one. In an exciting contest, the Reds earn a 3-1 win.
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