25 September 2015

Liverpool v Aston Villa 09.26.15

10am ET, live in the US on NBC Sports Live Extra

Last four head-to-head:
1-2 Villa (n; FA Cup) 04.19.15
2-0 Liverpool (a) 01.17.15
0-1 Villa (h) 09.13.14
2-2 (h) 01.18.14

Last three matches:
Liverpool: 1-1 Carlisle aet (h) [3-2 pens]; 1-1 Norwich (h); 1-1 Bordeaux (a)
Villa: 1-0 Birmingham (h); 0-1 West Brom (h); 2-3 Leicester (a)

Goalscorers (league):
Liverpool: Benteke 2; Coutinho, Ings 1
Villa: Sinclair 2; Gil, Gestede, Grealish 1

Referee: Jon Moss

Guess at a line-up:
Can Skrtel Sakho
Clyne Milner Lucas Moreno
Sturridge Ings

It's match #3 in Liverpool's crucial four-match home stretch. Maybe they'll finally win one of them in 90 minutes.

Liverpool aren't helped by the fact that injuries are piling up. Benteke, Firmino, and Lovren join Henderson on the sidelines, the former out for at least another week with a hamstring problem, the latter two probably out as long as Liverpool's captain, for the next six-to-eight weeks.

Nonetheless, it's hard to see Liverpool deviating from the three-at-the-back system used in the last two matches. Because, even though Liverpool continue to disappoint, they have been marginally better in this system. No matter the opposition – and Liverpool's two opponents haven't been impressive, to say the least – 70 shots over 210 minutes combined is better than what we saw before. Even if, say, 55-60 of those shots didn't really trouble the opposition.

There seem to be two possible variations to the formation: 3-5-2, with Sturridge and Ings up front, or 3-4-2-1, with Coutinho and Lallana behind Sturridge as a lone striker. I'd prefer the former, simply because Liverpool look more dangerous with two up top and Sturridge is better with a strike partner, but Rodgers may decide to have more bodies in midfield considering Villa's likely 4-3-3 formation. Not that Coutinho and Lallana do much effective tracking back, mind.

Maybe Liverpool revert to 4-3-3 or a 4-diamond-2, with Can moving back into midfield. Maybe Allen keeps his place ahead of Lucas in the above formation. But those possibilities seem far less likely. Three at the back seems Rodgers' safety net, just as it was during the one reasonably decent run of form last season. And Liverpool very much need a safety net at the moment.

Standing in Liverpool's way? Tim Sherwood. Sigh. And Aston Villa, a side that routinely foils Liverpool, no matter their manager or each's respective form.

Because, so far, Aston Villa are one of the few sides that actually look worse than Liverpool. They earned a narrow, unimpressive victory in the League Cup on Tuesday, but haven't won a league match since opening day, since barely beating Bournemouth (sound familiar?). That was the only league match Villa have kept a clean sheet in, conceding twice against Palace and Sunderland, thrice against Leicester, and once against fellow strugglers West Brom.

With Agbonlahor absent (as is Gary Gardner and Jonas Okore), Sherwood will have to start either Scott Sinclair or Rudy Gestede as the main striker. Sinclair could be useful up front on the counter, but knowing Liverpool's weaknesses, I'd expect it to be Gestede, flanked by Sinclair and Jack Grealish, a front three that looks an awful lot like the Benteke-Agbonlahor-Weimann trio which routinely caused Liverpool problems in recent seasons.

Otherwise, their lineup seems fairly predictable, with a probable XI of Guzan; Bacuna, Richards, Lescott, Amavi; Westwood, Sanchez, Gil; Sinclair, Gestede, Grealish. Midfielder Idrissa Gueye and winger Adama Traore are both in contention, both available after respective from injuries, but Sherwood seems likely to stick with the devil he knows.

Regardless, Villa are still Villa and Liverpool are still Liverpool. And Villa have taken points off of Liverpool at Anfield in each of the last four seasons, winning twice and drawing twice since 2011-12.

That's unacceptable tomorrow, not with Liverpool still winless since August 17 – needing penalties to advance past Carlisle doesn't count as a win; that match finished level. Not with Liverpool winless in its last four league matches; Liverpool haven't failed to win five consecutive league matches since Rodgers' first five league matches. That's what this has come to. A Liverpool side as bad and broken as the one Rodgers inherited in 2012.

The clamor surrounding Brendan Rodgers is already at fever pitch. Another failure tomorrow is out of the question. Liverpool simply must win.