Aston Villa have a 100 percent record going into the weekend visit of Liverpool, but will their good start to the season end against the champions?
Liverpool may have then suffered defeat on penalties to the Gunners in the League Cup, but they were much-weakened and their exit is certainly not one many will care about.
Jurgen Klopp‘s side are back in league action on Sunday evening, taking on a Villa side with two wins in succession so far, against Sheffield United (home) and Fulham (away).
Dean Smith’s men took the champions all the way in the corresponding fixture last season, but how will things pan out this time around?
With kickoff approaching, we spoke to WhoScored’s Martin Laurence (@martinlaurence7) to get the lowdown on Jack Grealish’s importance, Liverpool’s title hopes and much more.
How happy are you with Aston Villa’s start to the campaign?
After a very slow start against Burton in the League Cup, the season has improved ever since, so I can’t really fault it.
Four wins from four and unbeaten in eight matches (before the Stoke Cup defeat) stretching back to last season, dare I say things are looking up for Villa.
The new signings are not only bedding in well themselves, but seemingly boosting the level of the entire squad if the early cup performances were anything to go by.
Has anything changed in approach from last season?
I think we are finally starting to see the way that Dean Smith has always wanted to play, but was unable to last season due to personnel, both through injuries and a lack of depth.
The defence has improved greatly since the return from lockdown, with Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings now looking like a settled centre-back pairing, and Emiliano Martinez adding some reassurance in goal.
His comfort on the ball has seen Villa play out from the back more often, with the ability to mix it up with passes in behind and down the channels, due to the vast improvement in movement up front that Ollie Watkins has offered.
How important was keeping hold of Grealish?
It was a huge statement of intent from the club that the standard “we want to return to our former glories” quotes from the new owners weren’t powder puff.
Their financial muscle essentially made any transfer a near impossibility, as there was just no reason to sell the club’s poster boy and best player.
Jack Grealish is improving all the time and should be at the peak of his powers, if not this season then in the next few years.
He would improve every squad in the Premier League and probably 18 or 19 of the starting XIs, in my opinion, with Liverpool one of those exceptions.
Grealish is just a rare talent, in terms of his playing style.
Physically he has come on a massive amount with his pace and strength, and combining that with superb natural ability makes him a top-20 player in the league, if not now then certainly in the coming years.
What will constitute a good season for Villa overall?
It has to be survival first and foremost, but there is a real desire from the club to steer clear of a relegation battle this time around.
With one or two more additions, a mid-table finish is a possibility, but I would be content with anywhere between 10th and 15th place, and looking to build gradually.
Are you expecting Liverpool to retain the title in 2020/21?
I think Liverpool are still streets ahead and have backed them for the title from the off, while many have tipped Man City to regain it.
There is just a huge gulf in the quality of the starting XI.
City can blitz any team on their day, but they have such obvious flaws – while Liverpool aren’t without fault, they are far better at setting traps and lulling opponents out of position.
Pep Guardiola’s side will face the same problems they did against Leicester all season and continue to lose games as a result.
Who do you fear most for the Reds ahead of Sunday’s match?
He has more off days than Mane, but even on those off days he always has at least one moment, so up against Matt Targett I would be very fearful.
If Grealish doesn’t offer cover that may be where the game is won and lost.
Where do you see the key battles taking place?
It has to be down that right-hand side for Liverpool, with Salah up against Targett and Grealish taking on Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Grealish will be looking to exploit the space in behind that Alexander-Arnold leaves.
Beyond that, there will be an important role for Douglas Luiz against compatriot Roberto Firmino, with the Villa midfielder needing to cut off supply into Liverpool’s No. 9.
Finally, hit us with your prediction…
I will be optimistic and say 2-1 Liverpool!
There are errors in the Reds defence at present that Villa have the players to exploit, but Jurgen Klopp‘s side have too much quality down the flanks, as was evidenced last season.