By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa vs Liverpool
It’s back to the Premier League again this weekend, and Villa’s next opponents are league leaders Liverpool. Ten games into the season they are unbeaten, having won nine matches and drawn one.
Villa lost their last match away to defending champions Man City, and despite the scoreline Villa fans will be generally pleased with the performance overall. They again go into this match with no expectations to weigh them down, but that will not prevent them from going for a win.
After playing the top two back-to-back, Villa will see November as an attractive run of fixtures in comparison, but the seven fixture slog of December.
In the meantime, can Villa be the first team to beat Liverpool in the league this season?
Aston Villa – L D W W L
Liverpool – W W W D W
Dean Smith on Grealish injury
“He’s OK. He’ll be pushing to be fit for Saturday. He wasn’t fit (for Wolves) but I wouldn’t have picked him anyway. He’s responded really well.
“I never worry too much when it’s a contact injury, a dead calf – he’s got a small bleed on his calf and he’s responded well to treatment.”
Jürgen Klopp on chances of Fabinho playing
“I don’t know yet. I will have to see. I know he is [one booking away]. No challenges at all!
“It is not possible against Villa to play without tackles. We know it. We have to deal with this information, either him or me with the lineups.”
Liverpool have settled into a consistent 4-3-3, with a devastating attacking trio of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah leading the charge. They push forward very high with the fullbacks spending most of the games almost as far up the pitch as the wingers.
The fullbacks Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold push high and stay wider than their wingers, providing a constant passing outlet and putting in plenty of crosses – between them they make 3.6 crosses per game and 5.1 key passes. It is from these positions that most of Liverpool’s chances are created, so Villa’s own fullbacks will need to be sharp.
Jürgen Klopp is world renowned for his use of the “gegenpress”, or counter-press. With this tactic, when Liverpool lose possession they will relentlessly try to regain it immediately before trying to re-establish their defensive shape. Players in this team are required to be positionally astute enough to know how to apply pressure to the opposition from everywhere on the pitch the moment possession is lost.
They are very effective at this too – against Spurs, Liverpool dispossessed their opponents 14 times in total, while Spurs managed to do it only five times.
The persistent press and reduction of passing lanes reduced the usually crisp Spurs’ passing accuracy to a dismal 67%. On top of this, Liverpool managed to retain 68% possession and 84% passing accuracy, showing that not only can they win the ball back capably, they can keep it too.
If not for Gazzaniga’s heroic performance, Liverpool could have ran away with that match. Their terrifying attack resulted in 21 shots of which 13 were on target. However, they only managed to generate and xG of 2.19 from this, a figure which is massively hiked up by the penalty.
Liverpool are very good at fashioning chances, but that is not to say all of those chances are gilt-edged.
The European champions are relentless in attack and have no consistently obvious weaknesses. A win in this game would be a statement of true intent for Villa.
One to Watch
Liverpool’s front three are a force to be reckoned with for sure, but where would they be without the support of marauding right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold?
The right-back will make his 100th appearance for Liverpool on Saturday and he is far and away the team’s most creative player going forward with 2.5 crosses and an impressive 3.7 key passes per game. He’s pretty handy defensively too with 1.5 interceptions per match, but that is not what Villa will need to worry about. Assuming Targett starts, he will have to put in a shift.
Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool – 22nd May 2011
Stewart Downing scored the only goal in the most recent home match Villa have won against Liverpool. It’s pretty much all been downhill from there.
How it could play out
Liverpool fans hero-worship central defender Virgil Van Dijk, hailing him as the best defender in the league and often ranking him among the best defenders to ever grace the Premier League.
This observation backs up the idea that stats can’t tell you everything about a player, because statistically this season, VVD has been the lowest rated defender in Liverpool’s team.
His average rating of 7.25 is lower than Robertson, Alexander-Arnold and even the much maligned Dejan Lovren; although Lovren has only played two matches so far. In fact the highest rated defender, and indeed Liverpool’s statistically best player overall, is actually his defensive partner Joel Matip with 7.52.
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Much is said about their attacking prowess, but it is said that defending wins leagues, not attacking. They are doing this well too; their eight goals conceded is the joint lowest in the league. This is more a reflection of their aggressive press, which reduces opposition time on the ball, than their actual defence which has been fairly untested so far this season. They concede only 9.3 shots per game, and most of those can be assumed to be off target.
Tyrone Mings will face his toughest test of the season against Liverpool’s front three. He has had his equal share of mistakes this season as he has glorious moments. If he is to truly announce himself as a candidate to regularly start for England, he will need to start cutting out the mistakes and show more consistently how great a defender he is capable of being. Who better to prove yourself against than the likes of Salah, Firmino and Sané?
Villa should absolutely go for the jugular in this match – Smith has been praised for how he has approached each match with the big six so far. But as with last week’s outing, they should not be too disheartened if they come away with nothing.
Liverpool are worthy of their current league position, and as long as Villa put in a good performance and show heart, that is all any fan will ask of them.
Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool
Nobody has been able to stop Klopp’s team so far this season, and their good run looks like it might continue for the foreseeable future. We can hope for a cracking result, but realistically a loss is the most likely outcome.