9:05am ET, live in the US on Fox Soccer Plus
Last four head-to-head:
0-1 Villa (a) 05.22.11
3-0 Liverpool (h) 12.06.10
1-0 Liverpool (a) 12.29.09
1-3 Villa (h) 08.24.09
Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-0 QPR (h); 0-1 Fulham (a); 2-0 Chelsea (a)
Villa: 2-1 Bolton (a); 0-1 United (h); 0-0 Swansea (a)
Liverpool: Suarez 5; Own Goal 3; Adam, Carroll 2; Bellamy, Gerrard, Henderson, Johnson, Maxi, Skrtel 1
Villa: Agbonlahor, Bent 5; Petrov 3; Albrighton, Bannan, Dunne, Heskey, Warnock 1
Referee: Peter Walton
Guess at a line-up:
Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Downing Henderson Adam Maxi
It'll seem as if Liverpool are playing nearly every day over the next few weeks, with eight matches in a month, but there's probably little point in wholesale changes just yet. Last Saturday's XI, while undeniably (still) goal-shy, played well, and Liverpool will probably have to break down a similarly cagey, blunt opposition.
The lone suggested alteration is Bellamy, rested after exertions against Chelsea and Fulham, in place of Kuyt. The Dutchman, while diligent against QPR, has been slightly off-form all season, failing to score since May. And Andy Carroll remains the suave, expensive elephant in the room. He will assuredly receive chances over the holiday fixtures, but I don't know if 90 minutes spent wrestling in the agricultural Dunne and Collins' pig sty is the best way to break his drought.
Otherwise, Henderson and Adam were excellent in midfield last time out, the back four has been near flawless, Maxi continues to look one of Liverpool's few goal-threats, and Downing – tantalizingly up against his former club – was much-improved on the right. More of that please.
It hasn't taken long for McLeish to mold Villa in his image. Until last weekend's win at even-more-depressing Bolton, Villa had nearly the same record as relegated Birmingham had through 14 games last season: an equal number of points, while scoring and conceding just one less goal. Villa have beaten the three sides in the relegation zone plus Norwich, lost to three of the top four and West Brom, and have drawn the other seven, all against sides somewhere between 7th and 17th. Par for the course.
Given's hamstring injury is Villa's biggest woe at the moment, although the Midlands club will also miss Agbonlahor, suspended for Sunday. With Delph recovering from a knee problem, Villa's other casualties are Jenas and American Eric Lichaj. If McLeish sticks with the 4-4-2 used in the last five or six matches, Heskey will partner Bent up front; two of Delph, Herd, and Petrov will be in central midfield; two of Albrighton, Bannan, and N'Zogbia will man the flanks; and the back four will be Hutton, Collins, Dunne, and former red Stevie Warnock.
Harsh losses against Stoke and Fulham aside, Liverpool have been marginally better away from Anfield. At the least, wins against Chelsea, Arsenal, and Everton are still the acme for the season so far.
In recent years, games against Villa have followed a fairly set pattern. Lots of goals are scored at Anfield (3-0, 1-3, 5-0, 2-2, and 3-1 since 2006-07), hardly any are scored at Villa Park (0-1, 1-0, 0-0, 1-2, and 0-0 in the same time frame). No matter Liverpool's enduring impressive knack for wasting chances or the undeniable desire to maul some hapless opponent into oblivion, any sort of win – narrow or vast, lucky or deserved – will suffice on Sunday.