Liverpool must win away to Aston Villa on Tuesday night for their title aspirations, but are Villa fans confident of Steven Gerrard tearing up the script?
It is imperative that Liverpool get back on the winner’s board away at Villa Park, with Gerrard’s men flattering to deceive in recent months.
With kickoff fast approaching, we spoke to Villa fan and writer Crippy Cooke (@CripCookeSport) to get the lowdown on a huge occasion on Villa Park and to get an honest assessment of Gerrard’s performance as manager.
How do you assess Villa’s season overall?
Poor, it must be said.
We finished 11th in the Premier League last season with 55 points, but could only hit that tally with a 100 percent record from our last four games.
We have already conceded more goals than last season, and have already lost more games, and a lot of our signings have struggled with inconsistency, so there haven’t been many positives from the campaign.
How happy are you with Steven Gerrard?
I knew Steven Gerrard would enjoy a new-manager bounce when he initially replaced Dean Smith, but I was always wary of how he would respond when we suffered an inevitable dip in form.
Two wins in nine league games between mid-December 2021 and late-February was a low moment. Four straight league defeats in March and April was another one, so Gerrard has a lot to prove next season.
He looked out of ideas and had defeatist body language on the sidelines which didn’t win him many fans at the time, but we’ve turned things around enough to not be pulled into a relegation battle.
A top-half finish is mathematically possible, so things could be worse, but with Gerrard being backed in the transfer market in January, he must concede that he should have done better with this squad.
Could you see a narrative where Gerrard beats City on the final day?
Only if the Premier League title is wrapped up by then.
I can’t see us getting a result if City still need a win in their final game, as our record against the big-six has been disappointing this season.
Four points from a possible 30 – so poor, and it further highlights how far away we are from being in Europe.
Who have been Villa’s three best players this season?
Jacob Ramsey has been a revelation. He’s played in nearly every league game this season and has developed so much since the start of the campaign.
The 20-year-old midfielder is on England’s radar after an impressive campaign and a call-up would be much-deserved.
Matty Cash has been consistent at right-back and is turning in some strong performances of late.
He has played nearly every minute of every league game and is joint-second for assists.
Marvelous Nakamba had been fantastic until he picked up a knee injury in mid-December that kept him out until April.
We have not had an effective holding midfielder during his absence, which highlights how important Nakamba is to the team.
Which individuals have struggled?
Ezri Konsa has endured a monumental decline compared to last season. His form in 2020/21 almost earned him a place in the England squad, but he is miles away from that now.
Douglas Luiz is another player who has tailed off considerably from last season.
He has struggled in a makeshift defensive midfield role, has been benched in recent weeks and keeps being linked with a move away from Villa, so he has left a lot to be desired.
Danny Ings has also been a disappointment. He joined Villa with big expectations but has struggled to find his feet.
Ings scored just one goal in 11 league games between late August and late December and he scored just twice in 11 league outings between January and late April.
It’s not good enough.
How highly do you rate this Liverpool side among the best in your lifetime?
This current team is undoubtedly the best I’ve seen in my lifetime.
Numerous players in the squad are Ballon d’Or contenders and for Liverpool to be in with a shout of a quadruple in May is incredible.
I’m a 1990s baby, so I grew up when the Reds were barely a top-four side and Villa were almost on par with them. Now they’re one of the best teams in the world with City and Real Madrid.
To reach three Champions League finals in five seasons is incredible – even if they don’t win the domestic league, to finish in the top-two three times in four seasons would be incredible consistency.
Where do you see the key battles taking place on Tuesday?
Luis Diaz could be a big problem for Cash, too, as he is usually registering an assist if he’s not scoring.
Keeping Thiago quiet will be the biggest challenge for Villa’s midfield, though, as he is adept at finding pockets of space to run the game.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Liverpool keep possession for long periods of the match on Tuesday, wearing Villa down before striking the punch.
Finally, what’s your prediction?
The Reds need a win for their fledgling title hopes, while we have little other than pride to play for, so I predict that we will fall short.
Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool, but I hope to be wrong.