How new Villa signing Carles Gil could stop Gerrard and Liverpool
For Villa fans, it's the constant monotony that's soul destroying. It is approaching four years since the banality set in.
Not even the vaguest hint of optimism wafts through Villa Park at the moment, where fans still turn out to witness one tedious, goalless farce after another.
The only glimmer of credibility in Paul Lambert's tenure is Villa's defensive solidity, and on the back of consecutive home clean sheets, they are fully prepared for a Liverpool side with creative issues of their own. Don't expect a classic.
Comparatively, Liverpool's well-publicised creative dearth seems minuscule; Villa have had fewer shots (10.2 per match), made fewer key passes (7.5), and had less time in the opposition half (23%) than any other team in the league, scoring just 11 times this season.
In Paul Lambert's three years at the club, Villa's goals-per-game ratio, shots per game, and key passes per game have declined year on year.
The reasons behind the West Midlands side's inability to score goals are varied: Lambert's insistence on fielding technically lacking strikers as wingers (Gabby Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann) is perhaps the primary source of their woes, but in Fabian Delph's absence (he has missed 10 league games through injury and suspension so far), Villa's midfield lacks assertiveness.
Carlos Sanchez's 0.6 dribbles per game is the best their midfield has to offer.
Neither Cleverley nor Leandro Bacuna have been able to replace the suspended Delph in their last two outings. Note how infrequently they passed the ball forwards.
However, Villa's capture of Valencia winger Carles Gil, announced earlier this week, coincides perfectly with the visit of Liverpool, whose defensive Achilles heel could be exploited by a man whose record last season at Elche (1.2 key passes, 1.6 dribbles) outstrips any Villa player bar Delph. Gil, a direct and technically confident dribbler, frequently cuts inside to attack the box from central areas.
Gil possesses creative attributes that have been sorely missing for Villa in recent years. Note his influence in the middle of goal.
It's in this position that Liverpool have shown themselves vulnerable in recent weeks. Five of their last eight goals conceded can be traced to their midfielders failing to track back, as opposition attackers scored from unmarked, central positions between the lines of defence and midfield.
One possible explanation for this exposed space is that Brendan Rodgers' screening player, Steven Gerrard, is too slow to perform the task of sewing the two lines together.
Gerrard's poor defensive contribution in central areas is indicative of a wider problem; when the opposition attack with speed, Liverpool's midfield four do not track back fast enough.
This is the area Villa must target if they wish to score what would be a first goal in six games, and with Agbonlahor's pace, they should be capable of instigating the counter-attacks necessary to hurt Liverpool.
It is, of course, grossly unfair to expect a performance from Gil on his debut, but these are desperate times, and Villa need a hero.