Liverpool vs Aston Villa: 5 Reds Who Must Be at Their Best
On Sunday afternoon Liverpool will travel to the Midlands to face Aston Villa at Villa Park knowing that they must secure all three points if they wish to keep themselves in touching distance of a Champions League spot for next season.
Liverpool's form this season has been a little bit frustrating for their fans, and likely for manager Kenny Dalglish as well. The Reds have played well in a number of games but failed to come away victorious and a large part of that has been down their failure to score goals.
Defensively, Liverpool are the best team in the Premier League this season and that's always a good starting point for success. Liverpool have conceded more than one goal only once this season and that was when they were reduced to nine men against Tottenham Hotspur. It also didn't help that they lost Daniel Agger to an injury early in that match.
In terms of Liverpool's attacking players one could make the argument that only Luis Suarez has really displayed the type of form worthy of wearing the famous red jersey this season. New signings Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson haven't performed at the expected level, with Downing being a particular disappointment, Dirk Kuyt seems to have aged drastically over the summer months and Andy Carroll has been nothing short of a disaster.
Maxi Rodriguez and Craig Bellamy have impressed when they've played but unfortunately they haven't played nearly enough. Hopefully they will both be picked to start against Villa on Sunday because they're both in good form of late.
In this article I thought I'd take a look at five key players for Liverpool who will need to perform if they are to win against Villa and maintain their push for a top four finish.
1. Daniel Agger
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Is there a better central defender currently playing in English football? Vincent Kompany might be in the conversation but that's about it now that Nemanja Vidic is out injured.
Agger is a truly magnificent defender who simply doesn't have a weakness on the pitch. Great in the air, times his tackles fantastically, reads the game to perfection and is arguably the best ball playing centre-back in Europe.
Unfortunately for Agger, and for Liverpool, his body doesn't match his talent and his career to date has been plagued by injuries.
When Agger plays Liverpool have a great defence, and when he doesn't they have a mediocre one. You need only look at the difference in goals conceded by Liverpool with, and without, Agger on the pitch to see the impact he has on the team. It's no surprise that the defence has looked so strong this season when he's been able to play.
Liverpool will need Daniel Agger to be at his best on Sunday for two reasons.
1) He will be tasked with marking Darren Bent who provides Villa's main goal threat
2) He will be required to, as usual, talk his fellow defenders through the game and make sure they are focused and alert for the full 90 minutes.
If Agger is successful in both of these areas it will go along way towards nullifying the Villa attack.
2. Glen Johnson
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Nobody will ever confuse Glen Johnson for a great, or even good, defender. He's currently first choice in the Liverpool team over Martin Kelly because of his attacking capabilities, in large part due to Liverpool's lack of a right winger.
On Sunday however he will be required to be at his very best defensively because it is he who will be tasked with stopping Villa's Charles N'Zogbia who will likely start on the left wing due to the suspension of Villa's main dangerman Gabby Agbonlahor. While Darren Bent is their main goal threat, it's mainly been Agbonlahor who has provided the bullets for Bent to fire so his absence is a good thing for the Reds. However, his replacement, N'Zogbia is a fantastic player on his day and will be looking for a big performance as he has been largely disappointing since his summer arrival from Wigan
Having been moved on to the left wing by manager Alex McLeish to replace the departed Stewart Downing, Agbonlahor has finally began to realize his enormous potential and has unquestionably been Villa's best player this season so far. Due to Agbonlahor's form, N'Zogbia has been in and out of the team but he will see this as a chance to make the position his own and force McLeish to move Agbonlahor back into a central role.
For Liverpool to shut the door on Villa and ensure they don't concede a goal, they will need to stop N'Zogbia from influencing the game. That will be Johnson's primary task and for Liverpool's sake, he better be up to it.
3. Jordan Henderson
Scott Heavey/Getty Images
One of Villa's biggest problems thus far this season has been the failure of their midfielders to track runners from the oppositions midfield. Phil Jones for example caused them a lot of problems two weeks ago with his powerful runs from midfield and that's something Liverpool should look to exploit this weekend.
Key to that will be Jordan Henderson who should find himself selected in his favoured central midfield role again this weekend. One of Henderson's biggest assets is his ability to time his runs towards the opposition penalty area. He's also excellent at quick "give and go's" while moving forward and Kenny Dalglish should encourage him to do that as frequently as possible this weekend.
If Henderson can influence the game between the lines of midfield and attack, and force Villa defenders to step out to try and deal with him, it will create gaps in the Villa backline for the likes of Bellamy, Suarez and Downing to exploit.
Henderson is due a big performance and Sunday would be the perfect time for it.
4. Stewart Downing
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Stewart Downing has been a disappointment for Liverpool this season. Signed from Aston Villa in the summer for a fee of £20million, Downing was Liverpool's biggest signing of the summer and thus far has shown to be the least impressive.
Downing returns to face his former club for the first time and he does so with a big point to prove. He has to prove to Liverpool and their supporters that he was worthy of such a large transfer fee, and he has to prove to Villa and their fans that he left for the right reasons and that he made the right move.
Downing will go head to head with Alan Hutton on Saturday and that's not an ideal match-up for him, or for Liverpool. In four career games against each other Downing has yet to register a goal or an assist and given that he desperately needs to start delivering both for his new club, that's not a good sign.
Downing needs to forget about the season so far and he needs to forget about the player in front of him and just play his game. He needs to hug the touchline, face up his man, knock the ball past and hit the after burners. Downing has the pace to get Villa turned and facing their own goal and they don't defend particularly well when asked to do that. Downing's low whipped crosses are dangerous against any team, but against a team not comfortable with defending while face their own goal, they are doubly so.
It may be an idea to play Downing on the right wing as he does have a better career record against Stephen Warnock, but having spent two seasons playing and training alongside Downing, Warnock knows his game inside out.
Regardless of which side of the field he's played, if Downing can find the form he displayed in the second half of last season then he can be an asset to Liverpool, he needs to start finding that form this Sunday.
5. Luis Suarez
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Suarez has carried Liverpool for long stretches this season and if the Liverpool player of the year award was held tomorrow he would win it in a landslide.
Suarez has proven this season that he doesn't need to score goals to have great games and his performances really have been, at times, breath-taking. Liverpool's entire attack revolves around the movement, touch and creativity of their Uruguayan genius and they will need him to be at his best on Sunday.
He ended a mini goal drought by notching the winner against QPR at Anfield last weekend and Liverpool will hoping that he brings his shooting boots to Villa Park this Sunday because if he doesn't score, goals could be hard to come by for the men from Merseyside.
Villa's two central defenders, Richard Dunne and James Collins are both excellent in the air, but neither are particularly fleet of foot and they struggle when forced to turn and run back towards their own goal. Suarez needs to play high up the field and keep them on the back foot with his movement, trickery and the timing of his runs.
With a bit of luck the referee of this game will not have his head filled with pre-conceived notions of Suarez and will protect him from the type of overly physical play he has been subjected to on more than one occasion this season and could face from the Villa pair.
It really comes down to this, if Suarez is at his best, Liverpool should win this game. If he's not, it's hard to see them taking home the three points.
Thanks for Reading
So there you have it, my list of five Liverpool players who will need to perform for the Reds to be victorious on Sunday, if you feel I've left out anyone that could be a key performer feel free to comment and share your thoughts.
I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope that you enjoyed it.
I'd like to thank you for taking the time to read this article, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below. And if you've got five minutes more to spare, you might like to read some of these- http://bleacherreport.com/articles/980285-luis-suarez-his-top-10-moments-for-liverpool-so-far