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Liverpool: 4th place; 53 points out of 29 games
Villa: 13th place; 33 points out of 29 games
Last 4 meetings:
3-1 Liverpool (h) 10.28.06
3-1 Liverpool (h) 04.29.06
2-0 Liverpool (a) 11.05.05
2-1 Liverpool (h) 05.15.05
Last 3 games:
Liverpool: 0-1 Barcelona (h); 0-1 Man Utd (h); 4-0 Sheffield (h)
Villa: 0-1 Arsenal (h); 0-2 Reading (a); 1-1 Fulham (a)
Goalscorers (league; more than one goal):
Liverpool: Kuyt 9; Bellamy 7; Crouch 6; Gerrard 5; Alonso, Fowler, Garcia 3; Gonzalez 2
Villa: Barry 8; Agbonlahor 5; Angel 4; Carew, Moore 2
Referee: Mark Halsey
Guess at a squad:
Carra Hyypia Agger
Finnan Gerrard Mascherano Alonso Riise
Guessing the wingbacks, as Rafa is prone to trot this formation out for away games where Liverpool should still see a fair amount of possession. See Newcastle last year and Wigan this year. In similar situations (Watford and West Ham this season), Benitez has gone with all three strikers and three center backs, but with Crouch out for a month or so having undergone an operation to fix his broken nose, that set-up can safely be ruled out.
In all honesty, Liverpool shouldn’t need Sissoko as much as in games like Barcelona and United, where Liverpool put his hassling, tackling, and overall “enthusiasm” to good use. Alonso’s vision for the pass, however, will be essential in unlocking Villa’s defense. I’d also really like to see Mascherano. He’ll help in the passing department, and as a prototypical holding midfielder would firm up the three-man defense, but he could also use time to acclimate to the Liverpool midfield and the Premiership. Especially if he’ll be needed against PSV due to Sissoko’s suspension.
In addition, with Agbonlahor and Barry, Villa have pace and width on the wings, which will need to be countered. Finnan and Riise in wingback roles with 3 center backs could do this, but Rafa could also go with the pace of Pennant on the right with Riise, Aurelio, or Gonzalez lining up on the left.
Though my mention of Carew and Young every week in the predictions has turned into something of a running joke, they actually have improved a lagging Villa, even if it doesn’t completely show in the league table. Rafa is more than familiar with Carew due to their time at Valencia, and I’ve gone with three center backs partly out of respect for these two players. Hyypia’s height and aerial prowess to counter Carew, and Agger’s speed for Young.
Villa have been typified as draw specialists in the media, and despite the tabloids love of an easy narrative, this one’s duly earned. With 12 draws out of 29 games, they’re tied (ha!) for the most in the league with Fulham. However, Liverpool’s been successful at Villa Park lately, and played some of their best football of the season against Villa earlier in the season. And 3 points will put pressure on Arsenal to keep pace for 3rd place, as they’ll play the blue half of Merseyside later on Sunday.