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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Aston Villa, 12.18.11


Liverpool head back out on the road, visiting the West Midlands in search of their second consecutive win in league. Success away from Anfield has been easier to come by, with Kenny Dalglish's squad winning more at opposition venues than they have at home. Alex McLeish's squad are level on points with Norwich City in ninth and have earned eleven of their nineteen points at Villa Park despite losing two of their last three.

Common sense has it that teams are better at home than they are away, but it's been largely more exciting to watch Liverpool anywhere but Anfield so far this season---victories at Arsenal, Everton, and Chelsea have been more inspiring than mostly narrow wins against Bolton, Wolves, and QPR. Consistency's been the main struggle overall, but for whatever reason, away form has been far more impressive than anything they've been able to put together in front of their own supporters.

McLeish's move across Birmingham during the summer took plenty of the headlines, and given that most expected an absolute disaster, his tenure thus far has been relatively successful. They started strong, unbeaten through their first six, only to stumble in a home date with Bolton in the League Cup towards the end of September. Up and down home form would follow, with wins over Wigan and Norwich offset by losses to West Brom and Manchester United.

Despite the losses of Stewart Downing and Ashley Young, McLeish came into a squad that was both experienced and fairly successful. He was boosted by the addition of Shay Given, but the Irish goalkeeper is still ruled out with a hamstring injury tomorrow, and American Brad Guzan is expected to step in. Gaby Agbonlahor will also miss out, serving his one-match ban, which means that Emile Heskey could pair with Darren Bent up top. More experience comes at the back, with Richard Dunne and James Collins providing stability in central defense, with former Liverpool man Stephen Warnock at left back and newcomer Alan Hutton on the right. Fabian Delph could make his return in a midfield that will likely also feature some combination of Stilyan Petrov, Chris Herd, Barry Bannan, Marc Albrighton, and Charles N'Zogbia.

For Liverpool:

Who starts for Liverpool?

Johnson Skrtel Agger Enrique
Henderson Adam
Downing Maxi
Suarez Carroll

---Steven Gerrard's groin dong is slowly working its way back to health (or his ankle, which is less exciting), and there's been no news about a return to health for Jack Robinson. Lucas is out long-term while recovering from his ACL tear and surgery, and Jay Spearing will serve the second of his three-match ban for the red card at Fulham. And if he's not retired, Fabio Aurelio is probably hurt too.

---No reason to shake things up at the back, with a back four that's been solid over the past two months. Jamie Carragher's always in the discussion, but for now the pairing of Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger is clearly first choice. It's a similar story for Martin Kelly as it is for Carragher, as an injury or dip in form would probably lead to a spot in the starting eleven. For now Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique, who's been the subject of increased focus lately, will occupy the fullback spots.

---There was plenty of concern about how Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam would partner against QPR last weekend, but they were a key component of Liverpool's success through the middle in the 1-0 victory. I'd expect them both to start again, with either Dirk Kuyt or Stewart Downing taking up a flank opposite Maxi. With Henderson forced to the middle (unless Jonjo Shelvey and his wang work their way into the eleven), it comes down to two of the three listed, and for tomorrow I'm guessing the former Villa man gets the start.

---With the FA deciding that they wouldn't actually be doing any deciding, Luis Suarez is free and fit to feature, and I'm going for a partnership with Andy Carroll. Dunne and Collins are one of the more physical central defensive pairings, and Carroll could do well to take up space that would free Suarez to do most of the running. Or vice versa, or not at all, and we'll instead see a very fluid front five from Suarez, Craig Bellamy, Maxi, Kuyt, or Downing.

What's the most important factor for the Reds?

There's often a fair bit of hand-wringing to go along with matches away from Anfield, but as mentioned above, Liverpool has looked their sharpest on the road. Losses at Stoke and Tottenham earlier in the season belie that assertion, but five wins in five tries from October and November should give Kenny Dalglish's squad plenty of confidence. Villa Park has seen tight results in both directions in recent years, with each of the last five results settled by a goal or less. If Liverpool can push on from their disappointing display at Fulham, they'd not only continue an impressive start to the season in terms of away form, but, depending on the result later in the day at the Etihad Stadium, have a chance to draw level on points with Arsenal in fifth.

We're back to semi-easy viewing for all, with Sky Sports 1 televising the match in England and Fox Soccer Plus carrying coverage in the US. Complaints about the cost of FS+ for US viewers still apply, so streaming will be the main option for those not able to shell out the coin for one or two Liverpool matches per month. Delays aside, there's been much more reliability with streams of late, and plenty of links will be available in the matchday thread. Those will be accompanied by the team sheets, which are released around an hour or so before kickoff.

Hope you've all enjoyed the weekend so far, and that tomorrow provides a nice way to start to wrap things up.

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