After Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Manchester United last week, and then defeats for both Manchester United and Chelsea yesterday, this game has become far more important than anyone expected it be just a few weeks ago.
Liverpool went into that match at Old Trafford last week seven points behind, having played one game more. Had they lost, and allowing United three points for that game in hand, Liverpool would have effectively been 13 points behind.
But that didn’t happen, and winning today would see Liverpool close the gap to a single point. United would still have a game in hand, but it would put tremendous pressure on United. Liverpool can do no more than win their own games and wait to see how United do in theirs. And today really needs to be a win.
Villa go into the game three points from fourth place. Anything less than a 9-0 win for Villa will see them remain in fifth place behind Arsenal who have superior goal difference.
But Villa are obviously a far better side than they have been in most recent seasons. Liverpool have to work hard. Rafa has to outwit O’Neill.
Rafa has put last week’s last-minute stand-in, the legendary Sami Hyypia, back on the bench wth Alvaro Arbeloa available again at right back. Jamie Carragher moves back to his favoured position of centre-back, alongside Martin Skrtel.
Also back in the starting line-up is Xabi Alonso, recovered from injury and replacing Lucas. He’ll play alongside Javier Mascherano.
Albert Riera and Dirk Kuyt will start on the left and right respectively, with the world class duo of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres continuing their brilliant partnership.
Good to see Daniel Agger’s name amongst the subs, and Dossena’s there too maybe hoping to get on and continue his little run of scoring!
Some familiar faces on the opposite side – Villa have Brad Friedel in goal and Emile Heskey up front. They’ve also got Gareth Barry, a Liverpool target last summer, who still may end up playing at Anfield on a more permanent basis.
The game will begin with a minute’s silence, to pay tribute to Bryce Morrison, the club secretary who sadly and suddenly passed away yesterday. Liverpool will wear black armbands.
Liverpool: 25 Reina, 17 Arbeloa, 23 Carragher, 37 Skrtel, 12 Aurelio, 20 Mascherano, 14 Alonso, 8 Gerrard, 18 Kuyt, 11 Riera, 9 Torres.
Subs: 1 Cavalieri, 2 Dossena, 4 Hyypia, 5 Agger, 21 Lucas, 24 Ngog, 31 El Zhar.
Aston Villa:1 Friedel, 20 Reo-Coker, 24 Cuellar, 15 Davies, 2 Young, 8 Milner, 19 Petrov, 6 Barry, 7 Young, 18 Heskey, 10 Carew.
Subs: 22 Guzan, 11 Agbonlahor, 14 Delfouneso, 16 Knight, 17 Salifou, 21 Shorey, 26 Gardner.
Referee: Martin Atkinson