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Villa boss Smith understands why Liverpool are unhappy over fixtures

Aston Villa boss Dean Smith sympathises with Liverpool as the Premier League leaders try to thrash out a solution to their fixture congestion.

Their Carabao Cup quarter-final tie against Villa was scheduled to be played the week commencing December 16 but the Reds will be in Qatar for the Club World Cup.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp threatened to quit the competition if they were not given a favourable alternative slot – which is looking increasingly like January 7 or 8, the scheduled dates for the first leg of the semi-finals – but he has ruled out leaving players behind in England to fulfil the fixture while they are in Doha.

Villa host the Reds in the Premier League on Saturday and asked about the predicament, Smith said: “It’s a game due to be played while they are at the Club World Cup so I am sympathetic and understanding of the reasons why they want it changed.

“It’s got to be a date that doesn’t affect our games as well, but we don’t have a Club World Cup to compete in or a Champions League game so there are more gaps in our calendar.

“I’m expecting to play it but when we play it, I don’t know. I believe talks are being held with Liverpool and the EFL at the moment and I know our secretary has been in touch with the EFL as well. It’s down to them to sort.

“It’s a great draw because there is a great history between the two clubs in the competition, and they are the current champions of Europe.

“I’m looking forward to the game tomorrow but I am also looking forward to the Carabao Cup when it comes around.”

The one solution Smith does not want to see is Liverpool withdrawing from the Carabao Cup.

He said: “It would be disappointing for the competition. Hopefully that’s the worst-case scenario and it doesn’t come about.”

Meanwhile, captain Jack Grealish will be back in the Villa squad against Liverpool.

The attacking midfielder suffered a calf injury last weekend at Manchester City and missed the Carabao Cup win against Wolves.

“Jack has been out there training today. He’s still a little bit sore but he is in contention to start and he wants to start,” said Smith.

“I said earlier in the week that when there’s contact injuries on soft tissues then you’re going to get a small bleed in there, which he’s got. But it’s not going to do too much harm to him gong out there, once adrenaline kicks in you feel very little anyway.

“There’s no long term issue with that type of injury, the decision I have to make is whether he is fit enough to start because we are up against the current champions of Europe and you need all 11 players to be physically right to go and produce on that day.

“My only call is whether he can go and produce the standards that we expect of him.”