This is a game that Aston Villa can’t afford to lose. Kicking off on Sunday certainly has its disadvantages and Paul Lambert’s side could find themselves back in the relegation zone by the time their clash with Liverpool gets underway. Villa, however, are a team in form and two wins on the spin against their fellow relegation rivals Reading and Queens Park Rangers has raised the optimism levels at Villa Park. They could breathe further life into their survival mission by completing the double over Liverpool. In a season rare on highlights for Lambert the 3-1 victory at Anfield in December must sit at the top. That said they’ve won just once in 14 home games against the Reds since 1998.
Brendan Rodgers’ troops are still in the hunt for a top-six finish that would crown a steady first campaign as Liverpool manager. Rodgers have previously talked up his sides chances of Champions League qualification but defeat to Southampton in their last game leaves the Merseyside languishing nine points behind the top-four in seventh spot. With Luis Suarez providing a cutting edge up front and Steven Gerrard once again in imperious form there is no reason to suggest why they can’t continue to dream big. Four wins in the last five in all competitions offers a slither of credence to that proclamation.
Darren Bent (foot), Nathan Baker (head) and Karim El Ahmadi (ankle) could all return to boost Aston Villa’s survival bid while Fabian Delph is available following a two-game suspension. Ciaran Clark (hamstring) and Brett Holman (shoulder) will be assessed before kick off.
Jamie Carragher and Jose Reina both returned to Liverpool training during the international break meaning Brendan Rodgers has no fresh injury concerns.
What the managers said…
“I’m a little bit surprised we are bottom (of the fair play table). Because we’re a young side, sometimes our enthusiasm overrides things. If the referee decides to wave the yellow card, you have to run with it. Are Villa a dirty side? Are you kidding. We’ve got one player over six feet tall. The rest are three feet, nine inches! We are not the biggest team but we will certainly stand up to things.” Paul Lambert has defended Aston Villa’s poor disciplinary record (ITV)
“It’s very important that this season doesn’t peter out. It can’t do. Supporters are going to pay good money, home and away, to come and watch the football club. This is a club where there is institutional pride. Of course, we always want to be challenging for trophies but if that’s not the case, you need to represent the shirt and the city. Every game is vital. We’re playing for professional pride. We’re at a stage in the season where we don’t have a trophy to play for but we still have to fight.” Brendan Rodgers has warned his side not to let their season ‘peter’ out (liverpoolfc.com)
Pre-Match Statistic: Paul Lambert has tasted victory in each of his last three matches against Brendan Rodgers
Prediction: Aston Villa 2-3 Liverpool