Two sides that finished their previous season on a remarkably high note – Liverpool being crowned Champions and Aston Villa making sure of their continued Premier League status for at least one more season – will meet at Villa Park on Sunday evening. However how they ended the previous season, is not the only similarity between the sides though. Both crashed out of the Carabao Cup midweek, against relatively weaker sides – Villa lost 0-1 to Stoke City, while the Reds lost on penalties to Arsenal after a goalless draw in regular time.
Aston Villa are on the longest current unbeaten run of any side in the Premier League (6 – W4 D2). If they win on Sunday, they will win three games consecutively in the competition for the first time since April 2010. That six-game streak however has included only one Big Six opponent – Arsenal, in the penultimate game of last season. Villa have started this season very well in all competitions and were unbeaten in four games until Stoke City disrupted their run on Thursday. However, that was a second-string XI that could not overcome Sam Vokes’ first half goal. Dean Smith will plan to face Liverpool with a full strength XI that has already won 1-0 against Sheffield United and brushed Fulham aside by a 3-0 score line in the league. However, with Villa’s international break bookended by the Champions on Sunday and the high-flying Leicester City 13 days later, Dean Smith will hope that his side can keep up their form.
If Villa have started their season as a continuation of their last, the Champions Liverpool have started theirs completely differently. After winning the league with seven games to play, their intensity had noticeably dropped in those last few games in 2019-20. However, they have started this season with the same intensity that helped them win the title at a canter. In the league, after starting with an anxious win against Leeds United, they have come into their own, overcoming both Chelsea and Arsenal by two-goal margins. They also suffered a mid-week hiccup though. After losing by 3-1 at Anfield on Monday night, Arsenal returned on Thursday night to knock Liverpool out of Carabao Cup last 16 on penalties. Jurgen Klopp too had rotated his starting XI heavily. But he did start with Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk on Thursday. Despite this, and despite getting a handful of very good chances, Liverpool were unable to go past Bernd Leno in Arsenal’s goal. It is unlikely that Klopp will dwell too much on that loss however, as his side’s league form gives them a good chance to put some distance between themselves and the primary chasing pack of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. The Reds will want to continue their winning start on Sunday to ensure that they head into the international break on a positive note.
- In 50 Premier League games between the two sides, the balance is heavily in favor of the Reds. Liverpool have won 28 and drawn 10, losing only 12. In 50 games, they have scored 86 goals and conceded 47, keeping 21 clean sheets. The Reds, in fact have lost just one of their 19 Premier League away games against Aston Villa (W13 D5), winning their last six visits since a 0-1 loss in May 2011.
- In line with history, Aston Villa have lost their last five Premier League meetings with Liverpool by an aggregate of score of 3-15. The Villans generally do not have much luck against reigning champions as well. They have lost 15 Premier League games against champions including the last 12 consecutively.
- This game gives an opportunity to set some new streak records for both the sides. Villa have not won each of their first three league games in a single campaign since 1962-63. They have not kept a clean sheet in each of their opening three league games since 1900-01. They have an opportunity to match those record streaks on Sunday.
- On the other hand, the Reds have won each of their four Premier League games in both 2018-19 and 2019-20m and could become the first team in top-flight history to do so in three consecutive campaigns.
Although it has only been two games, Tyrone Mings is Aston Villa’s best rated player on most rating sites. It is not difficult to see why. He has led a defence that has kept two clean sheets, while he has already scored and assisted a goal each. His defending skills have been key in the recent miserly behavior from his side in terms of goals conceded. Mings’ aerial prowess also shows up in his 76% aerial duel win rate. His passing has been top-notch as well in the two games, resulting in 80% passing accuracy. In opponents’ half his passing accuracy is 95% and in the final third it is 100% (only 7 passes in 2 games though). These qualities make him a key player for Dean Smith, who will hope that he keeps up his form on Sunday.
If there is one player in the Liverpool line up who is showing new-found rigour, it is Naby Keita. The Guinean failed to live up to expectations for much of last season but since Project Restart, he has shown why he was signed by Jurgen Klopp. The midfielder has sparkled in all three league games after starting in all three. xG of 0.14 and xA of 0.12 do not indicate too much of a goal threat, indicating a goal contributed for every three games. However, of the players that have started all three games, he has the highest xGBuildup90 (Total xG of every possession for the player, excluding key passes and shots) of 0.46. This means that for every 90 minutes played, Keita is likely to contribute half a goal worth of xG through his build-up play alone. With a shot every game, he does try his luck at scoring as well.
For Villa, the key good news of this week was the arrival of Ross Barkley from Chelsea on loan. The experienced former Evertonian will hope to make his debut against the Reds but might start on the bench. Dean Smith is likely to revert to his first choice XI that has provided the winning start to Villa. The likely lineup for the Aston Villa is likely to be Martinez; Cash, Konsa Ngoyo, Mings, Targett; McGinn, Douglas Luiz, Hourihane; Trezeguet, Watkins, Grealish.
For Liverpool, Thiago Alcantara has tested positive for Coronavirus and is in self-isolation. He joins other absentees Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, Joel Matip, and Tsimikas. Skipper Henderson will hope to at least make the bench on Sunday. Jurgen Klopp too will rotate back to his first-choice XI meaning the likely lineup for Liverpool is – Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Naby Keita; Mane, Firmino, Salah.
Given Liverpool’s form in the league and also given the fact that they crashed out of the Carabao Cup on Thursday night, they will be keen to get back to winning ways. We can expect more zing in their play on Sunday evening than they showed on Thursday. That should suffice to overcome Aston Villa who are currently overperforming above their level.
Aston Villa 0 – 2 Liverpool