Aston Villa will arrive at Anfield unbeaten in four games and looking forward to the prospect of a Capital One Cup Semi-Final after a 4-1 victory against Paul Lamberts former employers.
Although Villa have only won 1 of their last 16 away matches and only sit above the relegation spots due to goal difference. Even though the may have conceded few, goals have been hard to come by, scoring only 12 in 16 games – the fewest in the league and this could prove awkward to change against a side that have conceded just once in 5 games at Anfield.
Liverpool are slowly moving up the table, only four points off their bitter rivals Everton in fourth and Brendan Rodgers has stated he is targeting a ‘top-two finish’. This may be slightly unrealistic, however Rodgers has started to steady the ship at home, with 3 wins in 4 at Anfield; baring in mind they had only won 3 in 15 before that. There is a renewed hope amongst the faithful, especially after the first back-to-back league victories for a year, against West Ham last week.
Many football fans enjoy the jovial mocking of Stewart Downing, who is still yet to score in a reds shirt in the Premiership, since his £20 million move last year. Ironically, his last league goal was the winner against Liverpool, whilst playing for Aston Villa in 2011; a victory that has only come twice in 22 games against The Reds since the Premier League era.
Also Liverpool have only ever lost once in 10 games at Anfield to Villa.
Jose Enrique, a man who has been on form during this spell for Liverpool, is a major doubt with a hamstring injury and it will be decided right up until the final whistle whether he will have any part in the game.
This means Stewart Downing could continue at left-back, after Rodgers preferring to use the winger in a deeper defensive role, allowing Enrique to push forward.
Luis Suarez, however, is back after missing the win against West Ham last week through suspension.
Darren Bent will miss the entire festive period with a hamstring injury but Joe Bennett is available again after being cup tied. Captain Ron Vlaar and Enda Stevens are recovering from their respective injuries although unlikely to feature due to match fitness.
Ones To Watch
If Liverpool are to challenge for the top four, then they do need a handful of players to start scoring more goals. Only Suarez and a collation of own goals have scored more than once this season. The shooting accuracy of every player (including the Uruguayan) has been below par for too long.
And if you compare the shooting stats to that of Aston Villa, you would not think the latter is languishing near the bottom of the table.
Raheem Sterling is likely to be key once more on Saturday, with his mazy dribbling skills and maturing awareness of forward play, I don’t think it is long before the future star will be assisting his teammate in the goals department.
His shooting accuracy as proven above, is actually joint best with Steven Gerrard, out of all the midfield and forwards.
For Villa, I believe it is crucial that Gabriel Agbonlahor plays well if Lambert wants anything out of the game. The rapid winger is likely to play on the right side and if Enrique is injured for Liverpool, he will be up against his former teammate in Downing; whose positional sense and defensive awareness is not up to the standards of the Premier League, through no fault of his own, however, Agbonlahor could potentially exploit the open space and punish The Reds on the break. Helping Christian Benteke in front of goal is vital, as he still hasn’t scored away from the comfort of Villa Park.
With the struggles that Villa have had in front of goal alongside the fact Liverpool are starting to look assured in defence, I cannot see anything other than a home win. Obviously Liverpool have not been scoring freely themselves, so a low-scoring game is likely, unless the magician Suarez decides today is a day to wave his magic.
Prediction – Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa