Match Preview: Liverpool v. Aston Villa, 01.18.14

Michael Regan

Team news, ways to watch, and a full preview as Liverpool take on Aston Villa at Anfield.

The unfortunate part about January--and June, July, and August for that matter--is that things like matches and the football get in the way of the infighting and told you so's that the transfer window so graciously drops on doorstep. The last few days haven't been so much about actual transfers as they have tactics and willingness to add quality to the current squad, mostly because actual transfers aren't really a thing quite yet, but by Fowler we'll have to put that all on hold as we watch an actual match. Bleh.

Putting all that on hold for a fixture that's been more than a little underwhelming the past few seasons isn't particularly inviting; last December Aston Villa absolutely laid Liverpool bare with swift counter-attacking football and some wonderful goals, cutting apart a tired squad and winning comprehensively after Liverpool barely rescued a draw a season earlier under Kenny Dalglish. The reverse fixture has been far kinder to Liverpool these past two seasons, but with a Villa side that's proven better away from home, it won't be an easy task.

Paul Lambert's seen only two wins at Villa Park since August compared to four on the road, with the victory at Arsenal to open the season the most memorable. Narrow wins at Norwich, Southampton, and Sunderland followed, and they've lost by a combined four goals away to Chelsea, Fulham, and Stoke.

The loss to Arsenal on Monday may prove significant if it gets Christian Benteke back on track, as the talented Belgian broke a 12 match drought with an impressive diving header to draw Villa within a goal in the 1-2 loss. Lambert has Ron Vlaar back from injury and will likely include loan signing Grant Holt in the matchday squad as well. Against Arsenal, Villa lined up with Brad Guzan in goal, Matthew Lowton, Vlaar, Nathan Baker (who suffered a concussion and will miss out tomorrow), Ciaran Clark, and Antonio Luna across the back, Ashley Westwood, Fabian Delph, and Karim El Ahmadi in the midfield, and Gabriel Agbonlahor and Benteke in attack.

For Liverpool:

Mignolet
Johnson Skrtel Toure Cissokho
Gerrard Lucas
Henderson Coutinho
Sturridge Suarez

Closer still to a full-strength squad, with Brendan Rodgers noting yesterday that Joe Allen is available and Mamadou Sakho will be making his return shortly as well. Jose Enrique, Jon Flanagan, Daniel Agger, and Sebastian Coates remain sideline, though three of the four should be re-joining the squad over the course of the next few weeks.

With Sakho not 100% confirmed and Agger still out I'm guessing Rodgers goes with the same central defensive pairing as he did against Stoke, and that the back line as a whole is identical. There were serious problems at the Britannia, which makes this selection worrying, but the injuries listed above leave few other options. Hopefully Sakho ends up ready to go and makes an appearance, and I suppose there's always a chance that Martin Kelly gets a surprise start if Glen Johnson's poor form ends up being down to the ankle problem he's suffered over the first few weeks of the new year.

As with Sakho, a return from injury and immediate start for Allen is probably asking too much, but there's at least the possibility moving forward that we get another taste of the midfield that had struck an effective balance through parts of December. For now I expect that Steven Gerrard plays deeper, this time with Lucas alongside him and Jordan Henderson pushed further upfield.

That type of shift means that one of Philippe Coutinho or Raheem Sterling drops out; there's always the possibility that Lucas or Jordan Henderson is sidelined in order for Daniel Sturridge to come into the side, but Sterling or Coutinho seem more likely. For now I'll guess Sterling, though I wouldn't necessarily be disappointed with either. If Sturridge is match-fit, he starts up front with Suarez and that's terrific, and if he's not, he comes on around the hour mark to do what he did last weekend, and that's nice too.

Kickoff is set for 5:30PM GMT/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 the overnight open thread up tonight to lead into the matchday post early tomorrow, which will have lineups an hour before things get going. Hope you'll be around to join us--if you haven't already, sign up for an SBNation profile and stick around.

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