Premier League | Villa Park | Sat 24 Aug | 5.30pm
Rejuvenated West Midlands side take on under-fire Merseysiders desperate for a moment’s peace.
After a dismal campaign in which Aston Villa flirted with the drop for almost the entire ride, there’s newfound hope around Villa Park after a promising summer – with good reason.
Paul Lambert’s youngsters engineered a superb 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium last weekend before going down to Chelsea with a gritty display at Stamford Bridge that deserved more. Even Jose said so, before adding that Lambert “needed maturity” (presumably before scuttling off, thumb on nose, squealing “na-na-na-na-na”).
Lambert, however, could be somewhat forgiven for his dismay when Villa’s opening fixtures of the season were revealed. Next up are a Liverpool side buoyed by their opening-day win over Stoke but still carrying the burden of Luis Suarez’s summer-long transfer saga.
Brendan Rodgers, to everyone’s delight, is now refusing to discuss the Chelsea-chomping Uruguayan until his return in six games’ time.
Simon Mignolet’s debut heroics ensured maximum points at Anfield last weekend, but not before Daniel Sturridge drilled home a well-taken winner. In Suarez’s absence it’s up to the 23-year-old to keep producing when it matters.
The summer was certainly one to forget for Rodgers but there’s only one thing his side can do to brush the Suarez debris back under the carpet – and that’s keep winning.
Nathan Baker (ankle) is likely to miss out for the hosts, together with Charles N’Zogbia (Achilles) and Chris Herd (calf). Ciaran Clark should make the clash despite being substituted against Chelsea after 43 minutes with a head injury.
Suarez and his remaining five-game ban aside Liverpool have an almost-full squad available, with only compatriot Sebastian Coates (knee) ruled out so far.
Meanwhile, new signing Aly Cissokho is in contention after his loan move from Valencia.
Player to watch: Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool)
While Aston Villa’s star man goes without question, Liverpool could find themselves regularly turning to this young Brazilian for inspiration this season.
Though technically employed on the left wing by Rodgers against Stoke last weekend, it quickly became apparent the 21-year-old was given freedom to roam, which essentially made him a third central
player for the Reds alongside Sturridge and Iago Aspas.
Though his 80% passing accuracy was poor, the diminutive playmaker attempted over half of his passes in the attacking third and created six chances for his team-mates – more than any player in the game.
Oddly he completed just one of his attempted 10 take-ons but weighed in with an impressive six tackles for his side.
It was a risk-taking display from the former Inter Milan man, but the type Liverpool fans may come to enjoy when his exciting ventures bear fruit. Undoubtedly he’s one of the top flight’s biggest ones to watch this campaign.
Villa’s hot-headed chief was furious with referee Kevin Friend in Wednesday’s trip to Stamford Bridge after he failed to send off Branislav Ivanovic for an elbow on Christian Benteke. That the Serb went on to head home the 72nd-minute winner merely rubbed salt into the wounds.
Lambert was visibly proud of his improving side, though, who clearly enjoy playing under the Scot's leadership. And, after being overlooked for the Liverpool job despite arguably more impressive achievements with Norwich than Rodgers at Swansea, he’ll be keen to get the better over his opposite number once again after three wins in their four Premier League meetings.
Rodgers, meanwhile, may have endured a torrid summer of uncertainty but his shameless defences of Suarez have hardly covered the Northern Irishman in glory. To get back on track there's a long road ahead.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool (PL, Mar 31)
- Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa (PL, Dec 15)
- Liverpool 1-1 Aston Villa (PL, Apr 7)
- Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool (PL, Dec 18)
- Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool (PL, May 22)
Facts and figures
- Aston Villa have conceded a goal in each of their last 11 Premier League matches at Villa Park
- Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has scored seven goals in his last six Premier League appearances
- Liverpool attempted more shots than any other side in the league's opening weekend (20), to follow up their league-high 528 shots last season
- Villa have won just one of their last 15 league home games against Liverpool (D5 L9)
- Only Manchester United (13) have won more Premier League games at Villa Park than Liverpool (10)
- The Reds have conceded only five goals in their last 14 league trips to Villa Park
- Christian Benteke scored three league goals against Liverpool last season - more than any other player
- Benteke has scored eight in his last eight home league games
- Since he made his Premier League debut, Liverpool have a higher win percentage without Luis Suarez (64%) than with (39%) in the league
- Steve Gerrard has score more Premier League goals against Villa than against any other side (11) - including one in each game last season
Expect a close affair – 1-1.
Aston Villa vs Liverpool LIVE ANALYSIS using online Stats Zone