Aston Villa vs Liverpool
By Dean Gregory
Aston Villa’s 100% start to the season after two wins, faces its first real test with the visit of defending champions Liverpool to Villa Park.
Liverpool have picked up where they left off, and will be looking to a swift return to the top of the table. For Villa, this will be an opportunity to gauge just how well their transfer activity has gone and will give their supporters their first taste of Ross Barkley in a claret and blue shirt.
Aston Villa – W W
Liverpool – W W W
Dean Smith on transfer activity
“It feels like a really good window. It’s a lot easier when you only have a handful of signings to do rather than the 13 we had to do last year.
“I believe we’ve added quality to a more experienced team in the Premier League, having found it tough in the first season.
“I said at the end of last season that I saw an improvement from the majority of our players and now we’ve added quality to that core of the team. Overall, I’m really pleased with where we’re at.”
On a positive start to the season
“It’s certainly helped everybody to be excited for the season ahead. Winning your first two league games gives you a kickstart and we need to make sure we continue that.
“It just shows that, defensively, we’ve continued what we did at the end of last season. We’ve only conceded two goals in our first five games. Defensively, we’ve got a really sound structure at the moment.”
Jürgen Klopp on current form
“As a group we know we are enjoying the best time of our lives. We have spoken about it and we are still doing it.
“I’m not in any doubt about the hunger and desire of my players. We are still in the right mood, and if we don’t succeed this season it will not be because we don’t want it enough.”
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Liverpool use a 4-3-3 formation, with a front three of Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mo Salah supported in the middle by Jordan Henderson. Joe Gomez and Virgil Van Dijk are their primary defensive pair.
They like to use the width of the pitch to attack down the wings with the help of their fullbacks, who provide the width. This is a very common tactic seen by a lot of teams who look to retain possession in the modern game, but very few teams in world football do it as well as Liverpool.
The main goal threat is normally provided by wingers Mané and Salah, both of whom can cut in to shoot or run directly at their markers and beat them. Centre forward Firminez, despite his position in front of goal, is tasked more with occupying the defense and creating space for his attacking partners to exploit.
Klopp’s teams are famous for their hard pressing mantra, the “gegenpress”. They are relentless in their efforts to win the ball high up the pitch, using the 4-3-3 to its fullest potential in creating passing triangles all over the pitch when on the ball and making sure every space is occupied when off it.
Playing through them often proves impossible, but their high press leaves them exposed for a swift break when possession is turned over. They conceded three goals against Leeds this way, and Arsenal were able to break their lines similarly.
So far this season they have managed nine goals from 8.31 xG, in keeping with their consistently high intensity attack from last season. They are able to carve out many chances each game with varying levels of quality, and take every shot that is available to them.
Defensively, they have conceded four goals from an xGA of 2.38. It is early in the season to suggest they are suffering from defensive fragility, but it is a consequence of playing with a reckless intensity such as Liverpool do.
They are a team that looks to simply outscore their opponents rather than shut them out completely, a tactic which only works for teams that are able to remain in control of matches for long stretches of time.
One to Watch
Mohamed Salah has started this season where he left off, having bagged three goals already in a MOTM performance against Leeds in which he earned a rating of 9.88. He is currently averaging 5.7 shots per game, 3.7 key passes and 3.3 successful dribbles. Villa’s defence will need to stay vigilant to keep him away from goal.
Aston Villa 2-1 Liverpool – 28-02-1998
A Stan Collymore brace negated Michael Owen’s 6th minute penalty to grab all three points.
How it could play out
Aston Villa’s bright start to the season sees them as the only team in the league yet to concede a goal. This is a stat which says a lot about their newfound defensive prowess, but it is yet to be truly put to the test – Sheffield United and Fulham have proven themselves early relegation candidates so far.
The imperious defending champions Liverpool, who have very much carried on their good work from last season, will be a whole different animal. How well will Villa cope when under sustained pressure from a team that arguably does it better than any other in the world?
Evertonian Ross Barkley will most likely make his debut here, whether from the start or off the bench. He relishes the opportunity to play against the Reds, who are his own personal derby opponent. His presence will add much needed bite to the midfield, and could prove to be the missing ingredient for Villa’s often soft midfield.
The news of Sadio Mané contracting COVID-19 rules him out of this match, and will likely see Diogo Jota start in his place. We all wish him a speedy recovery, and hope it doesn’t keep him away from the game for too long.
Jota is a very good player in his own right, but Manés presence up front will be missed for Liverpool this time out. Will Jota be able to step into such big boots so soon into his Liverpool career, or will this be a great opportunity for Villa to shut them out?
Villa’s greatest test of the season so far will serve to prove how effective their transfer strategy has been this summer, and will shine a light on where improvements are still vital. Any positive result here will be a huge step forward for them.
Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool
A new look Villa side complete with midfield bite, defensive stability and counter-attacking threat should be able to nullify Liverpool’s attack and nick a goal on the break. However, the visitors are irresistible going forward, and a total shutout is unlikely at best. Liverpool very rarely lose and almost always win, so it is hard to see any other outcome. Of course, even an honest loss against Liverpool is no cause for shame.