Liverpool are flying at the moment, but they come up against an Aston Villa side with European aspirations of their own this weekend.
The Reds picked up their seventh Premier League win in a row on Monday night, easing past Leicester and securing a 3-0 victory.
Saturday’s visit of Villa looks set to be a far bigger test, however, with Unai Emery transforming their fortunes since replacing Steven Gerrard.
They are very much a team in form, winning nine of their last 13 league matches, and they are a threat to Liverpool’s top-four hopes.
With the game nearly upon us, we spoke to Villa fan Crippy Cooke (@CrippyCooke) to get the lowdown on both sides’ seasons, Saturday’s clash and so much more.
Last time we spoke, you were negative, but things must be very different now?
Very different. Unai Emery has completely turned us around and given fans hope that Europe next season is a possibility.
We were heading for a relegation battle under Steven Gerrard, but now Aston Villa are realising their potential.
While it is a shock to be in contention for a Europa League spot after being so low down the table months ago, most supporters believed this squad was capable of a strong top-half finish.
Emery has proven that, so it’s vindication.
What has Emery done that has made such a difference?
Emery has greatly improved us in possession, so we’re able to play out of the back and keep the ball better in the middle third.
We move the ball a lot quicker than we did under Gerrard and he has instilled confidence in players who were struggling at the start of the season.
Which players have shone and struggled the most?
Although Alex Moreno has been a great signing under Emery, Ollie Watkins has shone the most.
He had just one goal and two assists in the league under Gerrard this season, but has bagged 13 and set up four since the managerial change.
Lucas Digne has been the biggest casualty of the Emery era. He was dropped in February for Moreno and hasn’t got his place back in the side.
There is even talk that Villa could let him go over the summer, so he has struggled the most since Gerrard left.
As for Liverpool, how do you assess their campaign?
An awful start but a promising end.
For Liverpool to have a chance of a top-four finish is incredible, considering they looked out of it months ago.
Their away form was awful prior to April, however, so that is something Jurgen Klopp must take responsibility for.
Where do think Villa will finish in the table?
I don’t think Villa can secure European football, with Brighton and Tottenham likely to finish sixth and seventh respectively, so I’m expecting us to stay in eighth place.
It’s still a fantastic achievement though, considering where we were, but just a shame to have been so close.
Do you think Liverpool will be ‘back’ next season?
I think Liverpool can convincingly secure a top-four finish next season, even with European football in the way.
They’ve had bad luck with injuries in midfield, so that shouldn’t be an issue in 2023/24.
Liverpool have an enviable attack, capable of besting any defence, so I think they will turn things around.
Looking ahead to Saturday, where are the key battles?
Mohamed Salah tore us a new one in the reverse fixture and boasts 10 goal contributions in his last eight games, so Moreno can’t afford to have a bad game.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has had a hand in seven goals in eight games, so his potential duel with either Ashley Young or Matty Cash could be key, too.
On the flip side, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn will work hard to turn over possession, so Liverpool will be made to work for the ball.
Finally, what’s your prediction?
I will go for Liverpool 2-1 Aston Villa.
We lost 3-1 at Villa Park and the Reds are in much better shape now.
Liverpool have been solid at home all season, while Villa have struggled on the road of late, so I can’t envisage we will get anything at Anfield.