After being crowned Premier League champions last week, there might not be a lot left to be played for Liverpool in the remaining games, but the fight to stay up at the bottom is intense and this Sunday night, the Reds find themselves playing a key role in this fight. They host Aston Villa, who at the time of writing are 18th in the table – a point below Watford and three points behind West Ham. For Villa, three points at Anfield could go a long way in saving their season, while Liverpool will be playing for their wounded pride after a 4-0 loss to the most likely runners up Manchester City.
Liverpool were not as poor on Thursday night as the scoreline suggests. In fact, they were the first with a shot on target and the first to hit the post. Yet, as Klopp admitted in the pre-match interview on Friday, they made four mistakes against a side that punishes the smallest of mistakes. The way the Reds began the game at Etihad it is clear that they are not satisfied with just the crown of champions. They want to win this title in some style with some hard-to-beat records in tow. One of them – 101 points in the season – is still achievable if they win the rest of their games. A win on Sunday will keep that hope alive. It will also keep alive the hope of not dropping a single point at home for the entire season. But in Klopp’s view more importantly, a win on Sunday will show that the Reds are still hungry and will send a signal of their intent for the next season as well.
Aston Villa on the other hand have no such luxuries of only keeping hopes of records alive. They will be fighting to extend their Premier League stint by at least one more season. But they are winless in eight Premier League games (D2 L6), the longest current winless run in the competition. That run has brought them parallel to Bournemouth, who sit in 19th with an almost identical record (27 points and GD of -24). But, the run-in for Villa is not an easy one, as they host Manchester United after the game at Anfield, and also Arsenal in the penultimate game of their season. Dean Smith needs to keep his team motivated to fight till the end in what could be a relegation showdown with West Ham on the final match day. A win against the champions at their fortress would go a long way in getting the team motivated.
- This will be Liverpool’s first home league match since being confirmed Premier League champions for the first time – the Reds are unbeaten in 56 home league games, winning the last 23 in row. They have also won their last four Premier League games against Aston Villa by an aggregate score of 13-3.
- But Aston Villa are a tricky set of visitors to visit Anfield. They have only lost one of their last five Premier League away games against Liverpool (W2 D2), though it was in their last such visit in September 2015.
- In fact, five Aston Villa’s last six Premier League wins against Liverpool have been at Anfield in a run stretching back to April 1999. This fixture has seen more away wins than any other fixture in Premier League history (20 away wins – 14 for the Reds).
- Liverpool have lost just one of their last 24 home Premier League matches against teams in the relegation zone (W17 D6, losing 3-2 against Swansea City in January 2017. On the other hand, Villa have lost 13 of their last 15 away Premier League games against the side starting the day top of the table (D2), since beating Leeds 2-1 in January 2000.
Mohamed Salah has scored 49 Premier League home goals in just 59 appearances for Liverpool and Chelsea combined. Should Salah score on Sunday, he would be second quickest to 50 home goals after Alan Shearer (47 games). Salah, with his 17 goals and 7 assists is the leading goal contributor for Liverpool. With his 4 shots and 2 key passes in the loss to Manchester City, it was not for the want of effort that he and his side returned goal-less. The Egyptian will be raring to make amends against Villa on Sunday.
Grealish has contributed 13 goals (7 scored and 6 assisted) out of Villa’s 36 goals so far this season. But his goal contributions have dried up recently, as he has not scored for 9 games, since the 1-1 draw against Brighton in January. He has not provided any assists as well for the last six games, last assisting a goal against Tottenham in February. Unsurprisingly, Grealish’s dry run coincides largely with Villa’s win-less run as well. Dean Smith needs to make sure that his team’s most talented player finds his mojo soon, if his side are to stay up this season.
Pundits in the media expect Jurgen Klopp to rotate his side at least a bit after the loss against City. But the German was unequivocal in saying that he is not going to hand out Premier League starts as Christmas presents to youngsters unless they are ready. He has a largely fit squad (Shaqiri and Matip being the absentees) and he might want to challenge a largely unchanged XI to come up with a better performance. Alternatively, he might rotate some of his team to keep them ready for slightly more difficult challenges in the run-in.
To Dean Smith’s irritation, Villa have had eight days to prepare for this game, after playing 4 games in 11 days since the restart. But that long wait has not helped Villa in terms of injuries. Tom Heaton, Wesley, Bjorn Engels, and Matt Targett remain injured and unavailable. Frederic Guilbert might be available at least for the bench. An emotional return in goal for ex-Red Pepe Reina could also be on the cards given that Orjan Nyland has been unimpressive in recent fixtures.
If this game had come immediately after Liverpool were crowned champions and if the Reds were not arriving into this game with an injured pride (after their loss at Etihad), then there would have been some hope for Aston Villa to take at least a point out of this game. It would still have been miniscule but it would have been a possibility. However, now we can expect a typical aggrieved Liverpool response on Sunday. It would be a relatively easy win for them if they indeed play like champions.
Liverpool 3 – 1 Liverpool