3pm ET, live in the US on espn2
Last four head-to-head:
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.29.09
1-3 Villa (h) 08.24.09
5-0 Liverpool (h) 03.22.09
0-0 (a) 08.31.08
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Steaua (a); 1-2 Spurs (a); 3-0 West Ham (h)
Villa: 1-2 Brum (a); 2-4 Arsenal (h); 0-2 Blackburn (a)
Liverpool: Torres 5; Gerrard 3; Kuyt, Kyrgiakos, Maxi 2; Johnson, Ngog, Skrtel 1
Villa: Downing 4; Agbonlahor 3; Clark, A Young 2; Collins, Delfouneso, Heskey, Petrov, L Young 1
Referee: Phil Dowd
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Kuyt Meireles Lucas Maxi
Other than Kyrgiakos for the injured Carragher, Liverpool's expected to deploy the same line-up that narrowly lost to Spurs, nine changes from the side that drew in Bucharest on Thursday.
On merit, Cole shouldn't walk straight back into the side, especially after his performance against Steaua. Yes, he needs time to find match fitness, but that's what the substitute bench is for; Maxi's done well on the left of late, and Liverpool aren't playing well enough to carry passengers. Kuyt could play up front, with Maxi on the right and Cole ostensibly on the left, but it still seems as if Cole (and Liverpool) would be better served by patience.
Babel's one of the few who came out of the mid-week European match looking better than before, and could challenge Ngog for the right to partner Torres. But I'm struggling to remember matches where the two have played together up top, let alone combined as well as Torres and Ngog have (especially against West Ham) if Liverpool persists with the 4-4-2. Jovanovic, who also did well for the first half against Steaua, might be in for a shout, but that he faded in that match means he's most likely to be a substitute, if he plays at all.
Finally, it goes without saying that I'd rather see Aurelio at left back than Konchesky, but that's still unlikely to happen. Konchesky's undoubtedly made some high-profile mistakes, but Aurelio didn't pull up any trees against Steaua either. However, Poulsen played his way out of the starting line-up despite the manager's obvious affections, so maybe there's some hope.
Tomorrow match marks Houllier's return to Anfield. Yes, it's also a return for Heskey and Friedel, but they've experienced returns before. This will be Ged's first game in the opposition dugout. Even considering the deserved criticism he's received from some corners (No, Ged, you didn't win the Champions League), I expect he'll be warmly welcomed. And that'll be deserved as well.
Villa will miss the suspended Ashley Young, while Bannan, Albrighton, and the aforementioned Heskey are doubtful. The Villans are amidst a run of terrible form, with three consecutive losses and one win in their last seven. The team's won once away from home all season, at Wolverhampton in September. And yet, Villa are only two points behind Liverpool, in 16th.
Tossing out the 'this is a must-win match' cliché seems banal beyond belief, but it's still true. At home, against a struggling side missing key players, Liverpool simply has to take all three points if there's any hope of moving out of the current mid-table rut. The side's played some decent football of late, albeit against 20th-placed West Ham and in a loss to Tottenham. Now, they need to put together a run of results.