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Last four head-to-head:
2-0 Liverpool (a) 12.18.11
0-1 Villa (a) 05.22.11
3-0 Liverpool (h) 12.06.10
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.29.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 0-2 Newcastle (a); 1-2 Wigan (h); 2-3 QPR (a)
Villa: 2-4 Chelsea (h); 0-3 Arsenal (a); 1-0 Fulham (h)
Liverpool: Suarez 8; Bellamy 6; Gerrard 5; Carroll 3; Adam, Kuyt, Maxi, Skrtel 2; Coates, Henderson, Johnson 1
Villa: Bent 9, Agbonlahor 5; Petrov 4; Keane 3; Albrighton, N'Zogbia 2; Bannan, Collins, Dunne, Heskey, Ireland, Lichaj, Warnock, Weimann 1
Referee: Michael Oliver
Guess at a line-up:
Flanagan Skrtel Carragher Enrique
Downing Shelvey Bellamy
I don't really want to see Suarez as a lone striker again, but I also don't expect Carroll to start after Sunday's display. Unless Carroll has been pulling up trees in training all week, I suspect he'll be left on the bench because of his dive, because of his reaction to be substituted, and because of his otherwise unimpressive overall display. Punishing a striker who's biggest problem is confidence may not be the healthiest tact, but last week's display deserves some sort of reaction.
Kuyt may replace Carroll in a straight swap, and Liverpool has usually been more effective when playing 4-4-2, but this seems another potential opportunity for Jonjo Shelvey, who has to have been kept around for a reason. Just like the reverse fixture was an opportunity for Shelvey.
Liverpool deployed a similar formation in the reverse fixture, with Shelvey lurking behind Suarez with Downing and Bellamy on either side. However, Liverpool didn't win because of a rare start for Shelvey or the rarely-seen formation. Both goals came from set plays, both corners, and early corners at that. It was the definition of winning the game by converting early chances, taking advantage of the fast start for a change, something Liverpool haven't done anywhere near enough. The subsequent 70 minutes was spent smothering a stale Villa into further submission.
As usual, Downing, Bellamy, Kuyt, and Henderson are the options on the flanks, in order of likelihood of starting. Gerrard and Spearing seemingly have to be the central midfield duo despite neither impressing against Newcastle. Henderson could also come in here, but the above formation – if used – doesn't really support the youngster's talents; he won't play wide in a 4-2-3-1, Shelvey would take up his more natural position as an attacking midfielder, and he doesn't provide enough of that ephemeral "steel" when sitting deeper in midfield. Henderson and Adam started in central midfield in the last meeting because Liverpool had no other options; Gerrard was injured, Spearing suspended. So unless Gerrard really needs a rest, which isn't outside the realm of possibility, I'd be surprised to see Henderson.
Neither Agger, Kelly, or Johnson will be available yet, and Dalglish has said that Agger will be the first to return. That Doni will be forced into his first competitive start is yet another reason why Dalglish will continue to pick Carragher over Coates – experience! – but I'm still part of the overwhelming chorus who'd prefer the Uruguayan. At least Carragher played at left CB against Newcastle, allowing Skrtel to switch back to the right, where he's far more comfortable. Fat lot of good it did, mind.
With one win in their last nine, Villa are actually on a worse run than coming into the reverse fixture. They were 10th when these sides last met, now 15th, just five points outside the relegation zone. However, it's hard to believe the Midlands club will play as insipidly as they did in December, which was one of Liverpool's easiest wins of the season. Despite losing, last week's match against Chelsea showed some promise, coming back from two-down before two late goals (including one from some guy named Torres) doomed any hope of a battling upset.
Villa has one of the longest casualty lists in the league, and it's little surprise that a downswing in form came at the same time Darren Bent has been injured and Robbie Keane returned to MLS. Dunne, Delph, Cuellar, Clark, and N'Zogbia are also out, while club captain Stiliyan Petrov was sadly diagnosed with leukemia recently. That's two first-choice defenders, three first-choice midfielders, and the club's top scorer/record signing definitely absent. Ouch. Young striker Weimann and right back Hutton will also be late fitness tests, with the latter supposedly more likely to be available.
Which means Villa are probably lucky to be facing Liverpool, one of the few sides in worse form than they are. You all know the depressing stats by now. Three consecutive losses, six losses in seven, eight points from a potential 36 won since New Year's Day. Indescribably terrible and terrifying. Not to sound both Pollyannaish and like a broken record, but Liverpool seemingly have to come good sooner or later. This team has many obviously apparent issues: form, confidence, tactics, etc. But it is still vastly better than the dross we've been treated to lately.