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Match Preview: Liverpool v. Aston Villa, 05.22.11

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Liverpool are off to Villa Park on the final day of the 2010-2011 season.

The season that seemed like it would never end finally does tomorrow, and ushers in a hotly anticipated summer that could see a tremendous amount of turnover. Ninety minutes separate a club that stuttered and stumbled for much of the first of the season from the chance to improve across the board, with reinforcements promised and the feeling that everything's finally in place for Liverpool to make the improvements needed.

That almost makes tomorrow's match as much in the way as it is something to look forward to, even though Europa League football is still on the table, and the challenge will be to turn in good performance against a team coming off their best result of the season and whose best player is heavily discussed as being a part of those summer improvements. Aston Villa are a week away from a 2-1 win at the Emirates, which was their fourth away win in all competitions in the new year; they've won the same number of matches at home in the same period of time, and drawn their last two after beating Newcastle 1-0 back in early April. It's been a tough stretch for the West Midlands club, but the victory against Arsenal will have them looking to finish the season with consecutive positive results.

Gerard Houllier amazingly has no injury worries, with Ciaran Clark making his return to the squad after suffering a both back and hamstring problems. Darren Bent scored both the goals at the Emirates, and last time out he was supported by Stuart Downing and the aforementioned Ashley Young in the wide areas, and Stilyan Petrov, Fabian Delph, and Nigel Reo-Coker through the midfield. An experienced central defensive partnership of Richard Dunne and James Collins was sandwiched by Luke Young and Kyle Walker in the fullback roles, with veteran Brad Friedel in goal.

For Liverpool:

1. Who will start for Liverpool?
2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?
3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

1. Who will start for Liverpool?

Reina
Flanagan Carragher Skrtel Johnson
Kuyt Lucas Spearing Maxi
Carroll Suarez

---It's the usual cast of characters to finish out the season, with Steven Gerrard and Daniel Agger ruled out for certain, and no chances are likely to be taken on Martin Kelly. Raul Meireles is also doubtful, as is Fabio Aurelio (I'm guessing). No fresh injuries from the 2-0 loss to Spurs.

---That stumble last Sunday probably won't have too great of an impact on the team sheet, and I think it's probably going to be nearly the exact same eleven. There's few options at the back---no other central defenders are going to break through or get feel-good minutes at this point, and there's no fitness news for Martin Kelly that I'm aware of that would displace John Flanagan for the final match of the season. I'm hopeful that, even though this makeshift back four has been very good at times, the summer brings about serious change.

---There's similarly little to change in the midfield, even though it was one of the areas of concern against Spurs. Jay Spearing and Lucas have largely been excellent, and the struggles on Sunday have to be seen as the exception rather than the rule. Yes, Raul Meireles' absence made life much more difficult, but there's a very good chance they'll have to work through what will be another match without the Portuguese international. One option would be to add Jonjo Shelvey and subtract either Maxi or Andy Carroll up front, which would push Dirk Kuyt forward with Luis Suarez, but I don't know that that's particularly likely.

---With Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez the best bet to partner up front, we're left to hope that both they and the squad as a whole find some sort of understanding that leads to a more effective and (ideally) attractive brand of football. It's tiresome to continually point to the Manchester City match as an indication of what's possible, but at this point it's all we've got.

2. What’s the most important factor for the Reds?

I don't know that the scoreline is going to have any sort of monumental impact on the general sentiment surrounding the club---yes, a win might see Liverpool in the fifth spot and European qualification, but the overall sense is that everyone's looking forward to the summer and next with quite a bit of optimism and curiosity. It's obviously the hope that Liverpool see out the season on the highest possible note, and it's doubtful that they'll be anything other than well-prepared with Dalglish and Clarke at the helm. But I also think that somehow underlining the possibilities for next season is one of the biggest potential takeaways and, while maybe not as important as getting a tough road result, very close.

3. Who’s going to win and what’s going to be the scoreline?

Farewell, old friend.

The much-celebrated Australian poll victory means we know this one's getting the deluxe treatment there, but it's a sad state of affairs almost everywhere else. Viewers in both England the United States are out of luck; the only shout for legal viewing stateside is if you have ESPN3.com, and outside of that it's streams only. Dismal end to the season from a broadcasting standpoint, so it's a collective dash to the streams, which will be posted in the matchday thread. As usual, team sheets will run once they're released, which is typically around an hour before kickoff.

Hope you all enjoy a nice Saturday, and that we get a good end to Liverpool's season tomorrow.