These past few weeks have been absolutely miserable other than the football. The win over Stoke City was preceded by transfer drama, and the positive sentiment it created lasted all of about a day before it was swept away by even more summer shenanigans. It would be nice for Liverpool to get another couple of names in to strengthen the squad, but right now I'm just ready for it to be over, a sentiment underlined by Trev earlier today.
Thankfully there's respite again tomorrow, brief as it might be. It's likely that the coming week and a half will be just as silly and doubly maddening as what we've experienced recently, so we can hopefully relish Liverpool's trip to Villa Park before we start tearing each other to pieces again. And before we say goodbye to Luis Suarez and hello to Darren Bent.
Sadly Liverpool probably won't even be able to get him, as he's joined Fulham on a season-long loan after falling quickly down the depth chart in attack under Paul Lambert. With the way their attacking contingent performed for good chunks of last season and out of the gates this past week it's no wonder--they've showcased a quick, fluid, and powerful unit in the win over Arsenal and the unfortunate loss at Chelsea, with a solid midfield and a backline that's remained resolute despite two early setbacks due to injury.
Christian Benteke will, as Brendan Rodgers put it, be the reference point in attack, looking every bit the striker who many thought (himself included) would be set for a move elsewhere this summer. He's linked well with Andreas Weimann and Gaby Agbonlahor, and the midfield three against Chelsea--Karim El Ahmadi, Fabian Delph, and Ashley Westwood--impressed both in pressing and possession. The aforementioned setbacks in defense were injuries to Ciaran Clark against Chelsea and Nathan Baker (whom Clark replaced on opening day) against Arsenal. Brad Guzan will anchor things in goal, though, with Ron Vlaar, Matthew Lowton, and Antonio Luna set to start and Jores Okore likely to feature if Clark and Baker are ruled out.
Johnson Toure Agger Enrique
Gerrard Lucas Henderson
Aspas Sturridge Coutinho
The news about Sebastian Coates is disappointing, to be sure, but it has little bearing on the squad picture other than when it comes to depth. He should be the only name ruled out through injury, joining Luis Suarez among the names ruled out. Suarez serves the sixth of his ten match ban.
Tomorrow will pose a different type of threat than Stoke City did last weekend, with a much more mobile forward three capable of splitting the back line with intelligent runs and quick breaks on the counter. It'll be a wonderful--or terrifying--litmus test of Kolo Toure's standing, and I'd guess that Simon Mignolet finds himself with far more to do than last Saturday. No surprises expected barring late fitness checks, as even with the addition of Aly Cissokho the back four are settled.
I can't see Joe Allen coming in for Jordan Henderson tomorrow given the performance Villa's midfield three turned in at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday; they weren't an overly physical group but put themselves about well, and while Allen's ball retention and movement would be welcomed, I think Henderson's pressing and physicality (at least in comparison to Allen) will be important. I would actually love to see both Allen and Henderson with Lucas, and there's a slim chance Iago Aspas drops out with Allen included, but Steven Gerrard and always starting always and etc. Henderson does offer more off the bench than Allen in terms of influence going forward, so even if he doesn't get the start it's likely he'll see time.
Up front there aren't many other options than what we saw last weekend, with Daniel Sturridge leading the line and Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas providing fluid support throughout the final third and Henderson floating in and out as well. Aspas was very good in his debut and Coutinho's vision unfortunately went unrewarded, while Sturridge's strike proved to be enough on a day that saw Asmir Begovic shine. Raheem Sterling will likely be first off the bench again, with Fabio Borini and Jordon Ibe--both of whom scored in the U21 win over Manchester United midweek--next in line.
Kickoff is set for 5:30PM BST/12:30PM EST, with Sky Sports 1 airing the match live in the UK and NBC/NBC Sports Live Extra carrying coverage in the US. We'll have team sheets in the matchday thread around an hour or so before kickoff, and any additional team news running alongside our standard coverage as well. Hope you're all able to join us again, ideally with the same outcome on tap as last weekend.
Just maybe less panicking this time. That would be good.