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Liverpool v Aston Villa: Match preview

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After an international break, the Premier League is back and Saturday's 5.30pm kick-off sees third take on fifth as Aston Villa travel to face Liverpool.

History

Over the past three years, Anfield has been a venue that has been kind to Aston Villa, with the Birmingham club drawing twice and took three points two seasons ago.

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In this fixture last season, the away side dominated the first half of the game and went into half-time 2-0 up thanks to goals from Andreas Weimann and Christian Benteke however, Villa could have had more, with Gabby Agbonlahor missing an early chance.

Liverpool battled their way back to 2-2 yet Paul Lambert's side continued their authority on the game and late efforts from Ashley Westwood and Ciaran Clark went begging.

Team news

The home side will be without Daniel Sturridge for the first time this season, who suffered a thigh strain when on international duty with England and is sidelined for the next two weeks.

The Reds' options are also limited in the defensive area - Martin Skrtel, who missed the game against Tottenham after picking up an injury in training looks set to miss another game however may make the Liverpool bench. 

Glen Johnson is also sidelined after limping off against Manchester City three weeks ago and young Jon Flanagan who was so impressive last season continues his return to full-fitness and should be ready in a matter of weeks.

However the Reds are boosted by new signing Adam Lallana's return to fitness. The England International signed from Southampton this summer for £25M, however he picked up an injury in pre-season that has made him unavaliable for Liverpool's first three Premier League games.

As for Villa, their main striker Christian Benteke is still on the road to recovery after suffering an achilles injury last season, much like fellow forward Lebor Kozak who is still sidelined.

The away side also have defensive problems of their own as first-choice centre-back Ron Vlaar is set to have a late fitness test on his calf injury he picked up during the 2-1 victory over Hull City and missed international duty for the Netherlands.

Nonetheless, Villa will be able to welcome new loan signing Tom Cleverley into the side, who crosses over from Manchester United.

This season so far

During their two opening games, Liverpool very much looked to be missing Luis Saurez's creativity.

Despite dominating the early stages of the 3-1 loss to Manchester City, the Reds lacked creativity up top and Daniel Sturridge looked exposed playing as a lone striker, not receiving much service or support when holding up the ball.

However, the Merseyside club finally looked like the team they did last season when they trounced Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 when away from home. 

New signing Mario Balotelli made his debut and he settled into the Liverpool side extremely well, linking with Sturridge and Raheem Sterling throughout the game.

Another new-boy, Alberto Moreno, looks to have added a touch of class to the side. Despite struggling to settle on debut, the Spaniard was immense against Spurs, with the home side's right winning failing to get past him on most occasions.

Moreno also offered a lot of service going forward and combined both defensive and offensive skills to net his first Liverpool goal - he dispossessed Andros Townsend in his own half and drove at the Tottenham defence, before slotting past Hugo Lloris an at acute angle.

Villa seemed to have also turned a page this campaign. They have picked up seven points from a possible nine, with victories coming against Stoke City away and Hull City at home.

Manager Paul Lambert seems to have brought some solid signings to Villa Park this summer that includes Columbian International Carlos Sanchez and former Liverpool defender Aly Cissokho.

Add that to the thriving pair of Andreas Weidmann and Fabian Delph who have been so impressive for the side over the past twelve months with the latter making his England debut in the past weeks.

Impact on this week's team 

Adam Lallana's return to fitness will be a huge boost for Brendan Rodgers' men as they attempt back-to-back wins in the Premier League. In Liverpool's opening games, the Reds have lacked creative ideas when on the attack and Lallana will aid this problem with his ability to glide past defenders and cut back-fours open.

However, I see the former Southampton man playing a slightly deeper role and Philippe Coutinho return to the side to replace Daniel Sturridge. The Brazilian was an unused substitute against Tottenham after under-par performances against Southampton and Manchester City.

Returning against Villa and playing a role further forward will give Coutinho more freedom than he has had this campaign which should see him return to form.

Mario Balotelli will likely playing the central-role upfront which is his best position and should improve from his last game as he will be much more settled after now being at the club for a few weeks. That should allow Sterling to play the number ten role and have the freedom to roam wherever he wants and menace the Villa defence with his blistering pace and quick feet.

As for the defence, Mamadou Sakho will likely partner Dejan Lovren again at centre-half with Skrtel still out.

Villa will likely have their front line led by veteran Gabby Agbonlahor who caused Liverpool problems last season and will have Weidmann in support.

Tom Cleverly, if he makes his debut, should come to the aid of the Villa defence when playing in defensive midfield and help break down fast Liverpool counter-attacks. 

Match Preview

Liverpool were dreadful in this fixture last season and almost conceded after thirty seconds. That was under a new system when Steven Gerrard played his holding role for the first time and despite looking shaky, he has since very much settled into his new position.

However, if you look at the amount of internationals who have been on duty with their country's last week in the Liverpool squad, it will very much be in Villa's advantage.

Only a handful of Reds players did not represent their homelands opposed to only a few from the away side.

Some of Liverpool's players - including Jordan Henderson and Raheem Sterling - may be tired for the Reds and put in an under-par performance.

Nonetheless, the home side ooze class both on and off the bench. If some of the players do not cut the mustard, there are plenty of talented hopefuls who will more than do a job off the bench.

Villa have been decent this season, however they failed to beat a struggling Newcastle United at home and left it late to snatch three points against Hull.  

They now meet a Liverpool team who have hit form and look to be really gelling as a side who look to challenge for the Premier League title. 

Prediction - Liverpool 3-1 Aston Villa (Balotelli, Sterling, Henderson for LFC, Weidmann for AVFC)

Predicted Line-ups

Liverpool - Mignolet; Manquilo, Sakho, Lovren, Moreno; Henderson, Gerrard, Lallana; Coutinho, Sterling, Balotelli

Aston Villa - Guzan; Hutton, Vlaar, Senedros, Cissookho; Cleverly, Westwood, Sanchez, Delph, Weidmann; Agbonlahor.

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Topics:
Raheem Sterling
Football
Liverpool
Premier League
Mario Balotelli
Aston Villa
Daniel Sturridge

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