Liverpool v Villa – Torres busy so Babel steps in

Fernando Torres is missing from tonight’s match after his wife went into labour. Best wishes to Mr and Mrs Torres of course, not just from us but from Liverpool fans the world over.

Pepe Reina captains the side in the absence of the injured Steven Gerrard, and will need to keep his defence organised in the absence of the injured Jamie Carragher.

HOullier-HOdsgon -- HO-HO HO? Joe Cole is on the bench, one of a number of players from Thursday’s draw in Europe to lose his place for tonight’s game although in Cole’s case there is a suggestion he’s still getting his fitness back after his recent lay-off.

Babel, Ngog and Reina are the only survivors from that match in Bucharest, Hodgson bringing back the likes of Kuyt, Maxi, Lucas and Meireles for this one.

Former Liverpool boss Gerrard Houllier makes a return to Anfield tonight in his new role as manager of Aston Villa. He expects a warm welcome, chances are he’ll get one from the fans if not from the sub-zero temperatures pitch-side. Someone certain to get a warm welcome is Gary McAllister, now part of Houllier’s Villa staff.

The Villa starting line-up includes a couple more Liverpool old boys, Brad Friedel and Stephen Warnock.

Liverpool: 25 Reina, 2 G Johnson, 16 Kyrgiakos, 37 Skrtel, 3 Konchesky, 17 Maxi, 21 Lucas, 4 Raul Meireles, 19 Babel, 18 Kuyt, 24 Ngog
Subs: 1 Jones, 6 Aurelio, 34 Kelly, 10 Cole, 28 C Poulsen, 33 Shelvey, 14 Jovanovic

Aston Villa: 1 Friedel, 2 L Young, 3 Warnock, 5 Dunne, 21 Clark, 29 Collins, 6 Downing, 9 Ireland, 12 Albrighton, 28 Hogg, 11 Agbonlahor
Subs: 22 Guzan, 24 Cuellar, 30 Lichaj, 8 Pires, 31 Herd, 10 Carew, 14 Delfouneso

Kick-off: 8:00pm GMT

Betting preview courtesy of Paddy Power (written before tonight’s teams were announced):

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Liverpool v Aston Villa

With several first-teamers being left at home and a Monday night kick-off there can be no nodding towards the Europa League trip to Bucharest if the players don’t perform for the return of Gerard Houllier with Aston Villa. Though few of the players were at the club during the Frenchman’s reign, the fans will remember the far more attacking style with which his sides played, especially before he fell ill. His current side share Liverpool’s away day struggles managing just four points from twenty-eight on the road. So with just a little confidence and some creativity going forward, there should be no danger in backing a home win at 8/13.

The return of Joe Cole will certainly aid the attacking end of things and he may be worth a small punt at 9/1 to open the scoring or 16/5 to score anytime. He’s only scored against Villa once before and is yet to score in the league for his new team.

Fernando Torres scored in both fixtures against the midlanders last season and though he hasn’t been at his sharpest or most enthusiastic so far this season, he’s a player who doesn’t need to be playing well to score. He’s the clear favourite to score first at 7/2 and even money to score anytime.

If Hodgson goes for Lucas in the holding role and allows Raul Meireles to play further forward, the ever improving midfielder could be a better bet than Cole to score first at 10/1 and 7/2 to score anytime. He’s been getting a lot closer to opening his Anfield account of late.

Liverpool have enjoyed comfortable victories in their last three home league games and have started well and scored the first goal in all three and are rightly 4/9 to score first in this game. There have been three penalties over the last three meetings with Villa so the 3/1 on a penalty to be scored is worthy of consideration. There have been enough penalties awarded in Liverpool games this season to justify a bet.

From all angles this looks like a home win though they may make it more difficult on themselves with another display of second half nerves. So while 3-0 at 11/1 would be a welcome result, 2-1 at 7/1 may be a little more likely. Hodgson needs to be brave and if he is he’ll get his rewards, if not the fans will let him know all about it.

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