Liverpool host relegation-threatened Aston Villa on Sunday afternoon, as the visitors aim to end the Reds’ long unbeaten home run in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp‘s men lost 4-0 at Man City on Thursday evening, as their title-winning celebrations took their toll on the champions.
This is Liverpool’s first home game as Premier League winners, and while there will be no fans inside the stadium, it will still be a special occasion.
Villa head to Merseyside deep in the relegation mire, but a shock victory could be priceless in their attempts to avoid the drop.
With the match fast approaching, we spoke to WhoScored’s Martin Laurence (@martinlaurence7) to hear his thoughts on Villa’s survival chances and Liverpool’s brilliance.
How would you assess Aston Villa’s season back in the Premier League?
It’s been a frustrating one in general.
It was always going to be difficult to manage such a huge squad overhaul but a number of the signings just haven’t cut the mustard and it’s left Aston Villa with a squad that is more quantity over quality.
We’re in June and it still isn’t really clear what Villa’s best formation is, let alone best XI.
There have been some decent performers, but most have played well in fits and starts rather than consistently, and our propensity to throw away leads, most notably through sloppy defensive errors, has cost us dearly.
Do you believe they will beat the drop?
Based on Villa’s performances since the lockdown I would say no, but based on those around us arguably playing even worse, we still have a decent chance.
The defensive organisation since the break has been much improved, but it’s arguably been to the detriment of what little attacking threat we were carrying prior to lockdown.
The players are fighting, which is the least you can ask – it doesn’t seem a given elsewhere in the relegation battle – but the quality just isn’t there right now.
Who have stood out as the best, and worst, performers for Villa?
It’s no secret that Jack Grealish is head and shoulders above the rest at Villa.
John McGinn and Tyrone Mings are the other big assets in the squad and have been decent, if unspectacular.
Since the break our strongest performer has been Douglas Luiz, who would have fallen into the category of the most underwhelming prior to the return to action.
For all of his endeavour, Trezeguet has proven to be lacking the quality needed at this level, and on the other flank, Anwar El Ghazi has always been very hit-and-miss (usually miss).
Both Pepe Reina and Orjan Nyland have proven to be a significant downgrade on Tom Heaton, whose injury has been a real blow along with that of Wesley, even if the Brazilian had struggled for much of the first half of the campaign.
Do you think behind-closed-doors games have hindered Villa at all?
They have hindered many teams, but Villa undoubtedly among the most.
We had six home games remaining upon the return to action where many others only had four, so given almost all of our points have come at home, the loss of that advantage is certainly damaging.
I must say the schedule has been a farce for a team whose every game is of vital importance.
To play four games in 11 days before an eight-day break to this one is incredibly harsh, in my opinion. There was no reason we couldn’t have played Wolves on Monday rather than Saturday, for example.
Where does this Liverpool side rank among the best you’ve seen in your lifetime?
Well I’m 31, so it’s unquestionably the best I’ve seen. That’s over a two-year period rather than just based on this season alone.
I’m not sure there has been much difference in quality between the two campaigns as far as Liverpool are concerned, although perhaps the mentality of the players has stepped up another notch, if not the undoubted quality.
Is there anyone you particularly fear going into Sunday’s game?
The ones wearing red!
There will be mismatches all over the pitch and full-backs pair Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will, as ever, have a big role to play.
Naby Keita has been improving this season and is the sort of player that could dominate Villa’s midfield, if he plays.
Where do you see the key battles taking place?
Villa did a pretty decent job of keeping Alexander-Arnold quiet by his standards in the reverse fixture and that will no doubt be key again.
If Grealish plays off the left, it will be interesting to see how both players deal with one another from a defensive standpoint.
Finally, hit us with your prediction…
If Liverpool go full strength it won’t be remotely close, but I imagine Jurgen Klopp may shuffle his deck a little.
I will go for an optimistic 2-0 defeat.