Liverpool v Aston Villa, Premier League, August 24, 2009
Despite their 4-nil midweek thrashing of Stoke, Liverpool still have the whiff of a club who remain off the pace, particularly having regards to the departure of Xabi Alonso and a clutch of injuries that has left the squad looking bare.
Much of the crisis talk on the red half of Merseyside has centred on Liverpool’s defensive problems. With Sami Hyypia no longer at the club, injuries to Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger have left Rafa Benitez short at the back, with the Spaniard moving quickly to plug the defensive holes with the purchase of Greek bad-boy Sotirios Kyrgiakos. Kyrgiakos or Daniel Ayala will likely partner Jamie Carragher at the heart of Liverpool’s defence against the Villains. (Liverpool are 8/13 to keep a clean sheet.)
Further up the field there are more promising omens for Liverpool. Captain Steven Gerrard (6/5 to score) will be relishing the visit of the Midlanders having scored more Premier League goals against Aston Villa (nine) than he has against any other team in the league. With Dirk Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun (11/4 to score) all set to patrol the wide attacks areas for Liverpool, Stevie G will be free to dovetail with Fernando Torres (7/2 to score first) through the middle – a mouthwatering prospect for Reds’ fans knowing that Liverpool’s two main men chalked up twelve wins and two draws from the fourteen games they played together last season.
Having impressed during pre-season, Lucas Leiva will once again try and prove he can cut in at the top level in midfielder alongside Javier Mascherano, while Glen Johnson, who has looked a constant menace down the Liverpool right since joining from Portsmouth, will again look to bomb on down the right while hoping his defensive responsibilities are kept to a minimum.
Matters are far bleaker when assessing Aston Villa’s pre-match hopes.
Even if Martin O’Neill’s charges had begun the season on the front-foot, travelling to Anfield would always look dauntingÂ as Villa have failed to win any of their last 15 league meetings with Liverpool. Stacking losses to Wigan and Rapid Vienna on top of that, together with Curtis Davies’ injury which means the defender will likely miss the contest, and a Villa away win looks all the more impossible.
With rumours going round that John Carew (10/3 to score) has fallen out with the Villa management, the job of leading the line will fall on the shoulder of Gabi Agbonlahor (7/2 to score) and Emile Heskey (7/2 to score), who should in turn be supported by Ashley Young and James Milner breaking from midfield.
The absence of Gareth Barry remains blatantly obvious when assessing Villa’s central midfield positions. Stilliyan Petrov and new-signing Fabian Delph underwhelmed against the Latics and were punished by starting the match with Rapid on the bench. Other options include Nigel Reo-Coker, Steve Sidwell and Craig Gardner – none of whom are stars who seem capable of dominating the match in front of the Kop.
Liverpool won this fixture 5-nil (33/1) at the fag end of last season, Gerrard chalking up a hat-trick, and if Villa aren’t careful another battering could await them under the lights on Monday night.
101predicts: Liverpool 3 – Aston Villa 0 (17/2)
Full match odds here.