The FourFourTwo Preview: Liverpool vs Aston Villa

Premier League | Anfield | Sat 13 Sep | 5:30pm

Billed as

A title six-pointer! Right?

LIVERPOOL FORM

  • Spurs 0-3 Liverpool (Prem)
  • Man City 3-1 Liverpool (Prem)
  • Liverpool 2-1 So’ton (Prem)
  • Liverpool 4-0 Dortmund (F)
  • Man Utd 3-1 Liverpool (F)

ASTON VILLA FORM

  • Villa 2-1 Hull (Prem)
  • Villa 0-1 L Orient (LC)
  • Villa 0-0 Newcastle (Prem)
  • Stoke 0-1 Villa (Prem)
  • Villa 0-0 Parma (F)

The lowdown

In days of yore, league tables weren't published until three games had gone by. That kind of information delay could never survive the 24/7 news churn, but it's instructive to think that the nascent league table is only now starting to have any sort of relevance.

Confounding pre-season predictions, Aston Villa are currently in the top three rather than the bottom three, lording it over schmucks like Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool.

That's what happens when you demonstrate striking efficiency – they won two games by scoring with their first three shots on target – while a defence somehow improved by the addition of Philippe Senderos has only conceded one goal in three league games.

After getting seven points from nine against Stoke, Newcastle and Hull, Paul Lambert's side must now set their sights higher: after Liverpool they play Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton.

If they're still third after that little lot, there'll be overtime shifts at the humble-pie factory.

At least Villa's opponents will be juggling domestic concerns with European campaigns. The proud old Midlands club may not dream of playing second billing to Ludogorets Razgrad, but if Liverpool are too preoccupied with Tuesday's return to Champions League football then Lambert's chaps will be only too happy to take advantage.

Certainly last season Villa proved capable of upsetting the big boys – they won 3-1 at Arsenal, before home wins against Manchester City (3-2) and Chelsea (1-0). They also went two up at Anfield before goals from Daniel Sturridge and Steven Gerrard forced a draw.

Villa will be glad that Sturridge – the match-winner in B6 last August – is still out with a thigh strain, while Luis Suarez is now confined to 'istoree. However, the Villans must beware a striker with a point to prove.

Left out of Antonio Conte's inaugural 27-man Italy squad, Mario Balotelli spent the international break kicking his heels – and a Wolves player in a closed-doors friendly, according to quickly-denied reports – and after fluffing a few chances at White Hart Lane, he'll want to get his Liverpool career started properly.

Team news

With Sturridge out, Rodgers could turn to Philippe Coutinho – with Raheem Sterling redeployed up top or out wide – or any of a trio of summer signings yet to make their full debuts: Rickie Lambert, Lazar Markovic or Adam Lallana would each offer different options, although Lallana lacks match fitness.

Behind them, and while wary of underestimating Villa, Rodgers may opt to shuffle his pack ahead of Europe. However, Emre Can and Joe Allen are injured, while Jon Flanagan is not yet expected to be back from knee-knack to add a Scouse twang to the Spanish full-back contingent.

Villa will hope key centre-back Ron Vlaar recovers from the ankle knock that excluded him from Dutch duty, while fellow stopper Jores Okore may finally be over his various knee niggles after a half-hour substitute appearance in Denmark's 2-1 win over Azerbaijan. Manchester United loanee Tom Cleverley could make his debut alongside Fabian Delph, who has replaced him in the England squad.

SEE ALSO Liverpool can cope with injuries, says Rodgers

Key battle: Agbonlahor vs Lovren

Balotelli will get the pre-match close-ups but Gabriel Agbonlahor might fancy his chances of grabbing the spotlight. In absentio Benteke the powerful Brummie has been literally central to Villa's attacking ambitions, and while Dejan Lovren certainly fills the pointing-and-shouting hole evident in Liverpool's post-Carragher back-line, it remains to be seen if he has the physical presence against strong opponents – he won just 2 of his 6 aerial duels against Man City and 6 of 11 against a Southampton side seeking new targetman Graziano Pelle.

SEE ALSO Westwood backs 'superb' Agbonlahor to shine • Agbonlahor signs new Villa contract

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • L'pool 2-2 Villa (PL, Jan 14)
  • Villa 0-1 L'pool (PL, Aug 13)
  • Villa 1-2 L'pool (PL, Mar 13)
  • L'pool 1-3 Villa (PL, Dec 12)
  • L'pool 1-1 Villa (PL, Apr 12)

The managers

Both Brendan Rodgers and Lambert were promoted to the Premier in 2011 and proved themselves in the top-flight season thereafter before leaving for perceived bigger clubs. But whereas Rodgers' Swansea seldom deviated from 4-3-3 and Lambert frequently tweaked Norwich between using two wingers, a diamond and a solo striker, the two managers have somewhat switched at their new clubs. The Ulsterman has often changed Liverpool's formation mid-game, whereas the Scot has had much more joy with a 4-3-3.

Facts and figures

  • Steven Gerrard has scored 12 Premier League goals against Villa, 4 more than against any other side.
  • Paul Lambert has never tasted defeat at Anfield as a Premier League manager, drawing once with Norwich and winning once and drawing once with Villa.
  • Mario Balotelli has scored 4 times in 2 clashes with the Villans, scoring his only Premier League hat-trick against them in December 2010.
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

In their last 17 home league games, Liverpool have scored 53 goals and gathered 46 points; Villa's only away league win since New Year's Day was that opening day smash-and-grab at Stoke. 2-0 Liverpool.

Back 2-0 at 7/1 with Bet365. Odds right at time of publication

Liverpool vs Aston Villa LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone