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10 key things to know ahead of Liverpool vs. Aston Villa

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Liverpool host Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday, with Steven Gerrard’s Anfield return dominating the pre-match headlines.

The Reds are looking to make it five league wins in a row this weekend, in order for their title charge to continue.

Standing in their way is an in-form Villa side rejuvenated since Gerrard replaced Dean Smith last month, so they could pose a threat.

Here are 10 things to know ahead of the game.

 

1. Villa made stuttering start

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith

Villa went into the 2021/22 season with relatively high expectations, having finished 11th in the Premier League last term.

Things didn’t begin well, however, with a string of poor results eventually leading to Smith’s dismissal.

He was relieved of his duties after five defeats in succession, at a point when his side was languishing just two points above the relegation zone.

Smith’s dismissal led to the arrival of a certain Liverpool legend…

 

2. But Gerrard is off to a flier

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard

Things couldn’t have gone much better from Gerrard so far, suggesting he is the real deal as a manager rather than a flash in the pan.

The Liverpool icon started with a 2-0 win at home Brighton, before an impressive 2-1 victory away to Crystal Palace.

There was no shame in the 2-1 defeat against Man City that followed, and Villa bounced back with three points at home to Leicester last time around.

Gerrard immediately seems to have his squad playing for him and he has adopted an energetic style of football that is paying off.

 

3. Who’s out for Liverpool?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, November 20, 2021: Liverpool's Diogo Jota is treated for an injury during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Liverpool’s early-season injury problems are easing, aiding their title chances hugely.

That being said, Diogo Jota is a doubt for Saturday’s game, with a late call set to be made regarding the Portuguese attacker.

Nat Phillips is out for the remainder of 2021 with a fractured cheekbone suffered against AC Milan, while Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott are the only other notable absentees.

Joe Gomez and Naby Keita are fit again but are unlikely to start, and Roberto Firmino is back in training but may not return until next Thursday’s clash with Newcastle at Anfield.

 

4. Predicting Liverpool’s starting lineup

WOLVERHAMPTON, ENGLAND - Saturday, December 4, 2021: Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara celebrates after the FA Premier League match between Wolverhampton Wanderers FC and Liverpool FC at Molineux Stadium. Liverpool won 1-0. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

With Klopp making eight changes in midweek, there is little reason why the same starting XI that beat Wolves won’t take to the field at Anfield, barring the possible absence of Jota.

That means Alisson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk and Andy Robertson will make up the first-choice back line.

Midfield trio Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Thiago have looked a superb unit in recent weeks and should all play.

Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are also strong options, but substitute roles are more likely against Villa.

Predicted Liverpool XI: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Henderson, Thiago; Salah, Mane, Origi

 

5. Villa team news

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 5, 2021: Aston Villa's manager Steven Gerrard (L) celebrates with double goal-scorer Ezri Konsa after the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Leicester City FC at Villa Park. Aston Villa won 2-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Villa don’t have European commitments this season, meaning they invariably have week-long breaks between matches.

For that reason, Gerrard is in a fairly healthy position on the injury front, meaning he could field a similar starting XI to the one that beat Leicester.

Emi Martinez, Matty Cash, Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings are expected to start, while Matt Targett and Ashley Young are competing at left-back.

In midfield, Marvelous Nakamba, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn look set to be Gerrard’s go-to three, with Jacob Ramsey, Emi Buendia and Ollie Watkins completing the lineup.

Former Liverpool man Danny Ings is back from injury but may only be on the bench. Bertrand Traore and Leon Bailey are unavailable and Trezeguet is a doubt.

Possible Villa XI: Martinez; Cash, Konsa, Mings, Targett; Nakamba, Luiz, McGinn; Ramsey, Buendia, Watkins

 

6. Villa’s past success at Anfield

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Monday, August 24, 2009: Liverpool's captain Steven Gerrard MBE looks dejected after a missed opportunity against Aston Villa during the Premiership match at Anfield. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

No opponents have had any real joy of note at Anfield under Klopp, barring the freakish six-game losing run last season.

Granted, Villa have lost on their last three visits to Liverpool, but they have felt like something of a bogey side at times.

A 1-0 win at Anfield was secured back in 2014/15, thanks to a Gabby Agbonlahor goal, and 3-1 triumphs were also achieved in both 2009/10 and 2012/13.

Everything points towards a Reds win on Saturday, but Villa may not be a pushover, especially with the Gerrard factor thrown in.

 

6. Gerrard tipped for Liverpool job

Speaking to reporters, Klopp spoke about Gerrard’s hopes of taking charge at Anfield one day, insisting that the time has to be right:

“Oh yeah. Yes, I think, absolutely. The only problem is when is the right moment for that? Not only about Stevie, but we saw it with Frank at Chelsea, a similar story.

“Stevie is doing really well in the moment. He’s very young still, from a manager’s point of view. So when is the right moment to take the job? Not to say that he’s not able to do it, but how long you want to do it.

“Is it the last job you do? The second job, third job you do?

“These are questions I cannot answer, but yes, I think it will definitely happen. And good for everybody!”

It’s a given, isn’t it?

 

8. Did you know?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Wednesday, December 1, 2021: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Everton FC and Liverpool FC, the 239th Merseyside Derby, at Goodison Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

The remarkable Mo Salah is surely the best player in the world at the moment, with his tally of 20 goals by early December bordering on astonishing.

To put his form into context, he had scored 19 goals at this point in his debut season – 24 appearances, compared to 21 currently – when he went on to score 44 times, in all competitions.

The idea of Salah bettering that record seemed scarcely believable – if he does, it will only strengthen his argument for being one of the greatest players in Liverpool’s history.

It is also worth noting that while the 29-year-old had registered four assists at this point in 2017/18, he has nine this time around, highlighting his all-round quality.

 

9. Attwell takes charge

Stuart Attwell has been confirmed as the referee for Saturday’s match, while Mike Dean is on VAR duty.

Attwell has already taken charge of one Liverpool game this season – the 3-3 draw at Brentford, in which he managed to avoid any controversial decisions.

Here’s hoping the same applies on Saturday.

 

10. Yet another non-televised game!

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Saturday, September 14, 2019: A silhouette of television cameras during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Newcastle United FC at Anfield. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

For the third weekend in a row, Liverpool have a 3 o’clock kickoff on a Saturday to look forward to.

That means the game won’t be live on UK TV – other parts of the world will screen it – as was the case against both Southampton and Wolves.

Our matchday live blog is, therefore, the place to be, with Joanna Durkan keeping you entertained and providing minute-by-minute updates from 2.15pm.

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