Going up against Alex McLeish’s side won’t be easy with the former Birmingham boss making the Villans hard to beat this season. Since moving across the road from St Andrew’s McLeish has guided Villa to a reasonably positive start to the campaign with just four defeats in their 15 games leaving them just inside the top half of the table. It’s a far cry from the position they were in 12 months ago when staying out of the bottom three was the clubs primary objective with Frenchman Gerard Houllier at the helm. The decision to replace him with McLeish in the summer didn’t go down too well with the Villa supporters and whilst they are still unhappy with his defensive minded tactics they should be thanking him for steadying the ship. His decision to purchase Shay Given has proved to be very shrewd with the Irishman’s influence playing a huge part in solidifying a back four that leaked all over the place last season. He’s also managed to get the best out of Gabriel Agbonlahor whilst nurturing young talents like Chris Herd and Barry Bannan with both playing key roles in a pleasing first half of the campaign. Coming up against Liverpool at home will prove to be an extremely tough examination as to just how far Villa have come under McLeish. The Scot knows the quality the Reds have in attack and will need to set his side out accordingly to deal with Suarez and co.
That’s the man Kenny Dalglish will look too once again to provide the goals and inspiration that will fire his side close to the top four. Suarez was on hand once again last week to see off QPR and keep up Liverpool’s impressive form that has seen them lose just one of their last 10 games. Supporters are now daring to dream of finishing the season in a Champions League place with Dalglish building a side capable of challenging at the business end of the Premier League. Last seasons decline under Roy Hodgson is a distant memory now that King Kenny is at the helm although they’ll need to cut out the minor blips if they are to actually make achieve their ambitions of bringing European football back to Anfield. Many saw the victory at Chelsea and draw against Manchester City last month as a catalyst for Liverpool to push on and climb back towards the top of the Premier League. However defeat at Fulham a fortnight ago and the narrow win over QPR has seen the optimism levels drop back down despite the Red’s sitting just five points behind fourth placed Tottenham. Travelling to face Villa on Sunday won’t be an easy task and Dalglish will surely be making players aware that winning games like these are vital if they are to accomplish the aims and justify the hefty price tags on their heads.
Aston Villa – 9th
Last Five: Won 2-1 v Bolton (A), Lost 1-0 v Manchester United (H), Drew 0-0 v Swansea (A), Lost 2-0 v Tottenham (A), Won 3-2 v Norwich (H)
Potential Starting X11: 22. B. Guzan 2. A. Hutton 5. R. Dunne 6. J. Collins 3. S. Warnock 10. C N’Zogbia 19. S. Petrov [C] 25. B. Bannan 12. M. Albrighton 18. E. Heskey 9. D. Bent*
Injury News:.Fabian Delph and Shay Given look likely to be missing over Christmas whilst Jermaine Jenas is out for the season.
Key Player: Darren Bent
With Agbonlahor suspended Bent becomes Villa’s main man once again and his boss will be desperate for him to find his scoring touch once again. The England striker hasn’t scored since the 3-2 win against Norwich back at the start of November and has missed a hatful of glorious chances in recent weeks. He’s made a living out of scoring goals and Villa will need him to do just that if they are to avoid defeat against Liverpool.
Match Fact: Their 1-0 win in May was their first against Liverpool at Villa Park since February 1998 – a run of 13 games without victory.
Liverpool – 6th
Last Five: Won 1-0 v QPR (H), Drew 1-1 v Manchester City, Won 2-1 v Chelsea (A), Drew 0-0 v Swansea (H), Won 2-0 v West Brom (A)
Potential Starting X11: 25. P. Reina [C] 2. G. Johnson 5. D. Agger 37. M. Skrtel 3. J. Enrique 19. S. Downing 26. C. Adam 14. J. Henderson 18. D. Kuyt 7. L. Suarez* 39. C. Bellamy
Injury News: Dalglish has no new injury concerns with Lucas out for the long term with a knee injury whilst captain Steven Gerrard is also sidelined.
Key Player: Luis Suarez
Another goal and match winning performance from the fiery Uruguayan against QPR last week proved just how important he is to Liverpool. In the midst of all the controversy surrounding his alleged racist behaviour towards Patrice Evra everyone is forgetting just what a fine footballer Suarez is. He terrorised the Rangers back four from start to finish last week and will be expected to inflict the same torture on Villa’s water tight defence on Sunday.
Match Fact: Liverpool have a decent record at Villa Park winning eight and drawing five of their 19 trips to the Midlands.
Last Time at Villa Park
Premier League 22 May 2011
Aston Villa 1-0 Liverpool
Villa have enjoyed a good first half of the season under a McLeish and a win against Liverpool on Sunday would move them a step closer to consolidating their position in the top half. It will be tough against a Liverpool side who are in supreme form at the moment and will be desperate to secure another win to move them closer to the top four.