Aston Villa vs Liverpool
| Friday, January 8th |
Premier League | Villa Park
7:45PM BST /2:45PM EST
As a reminder that we shouldn’t be playing football at all as the world struggles to cope with the ongoing pandemic, Liverpool’s FA Cup clash with Aston Villa is now in doubt due to a corona virus outbreak in the Villa camp. Confirmation of this will undoubtedly come only minutes after this article goes live.
The Birmingham outfit would undoubtedly relish having another go at the Reds, though, as they’ve won two of the teams’ past three meetings, including a 5-0 EFL Cup triumph over a Liverpool youth side while the firs team squad were winning the Club World Cup, and the historic 7-2 shellacking back in October.
Dean Smith’s side have shocked many this season, and although they currently sit eighth in the league, they are only seven points off top spot, with two games in hand. Riding the prodigious form of the persistently underdressed Jack Grealish, the Villans run an aggressive counter-attacking system, and have the capacity to stun any team that takes this threat lightly.
Ross Barkley notwithstanding, Dean Smith should theoretically boast a full squad tomorrow night, but in light of today’s news, it is uncertain whether the claret and blue can even field the required 14 players for the game to go ahead. It’s bad.
Projected Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Kelleher; Williams, Williams, Phillips, Beck; Clarkson, Morton, Dixon-Bonner; Bearne, Longstaff, Stewart
Even fielding a side against a club that is currently suffering a “significant coronavirus outbreak” sounds like a terrible idea, but to put your crucial first team players on the pitch, in a competition that carries little to no weight or upside, as your club is struggling to keep players healthy in what is already an obscenely densely packed fixture list, would be borderline irresponsible.
As such, if the game goes ahead, let’s hope Jürgen Klopp goes with youths and youths only. Andrew Robertson needs rest and Joël Matip should continue to work his way back to fitness, so Neco and Rhys Williams can get some minutes in. Let James Norris or Owen Beck get a senior debut.
Similarly, in midfield, Thiago is continuing his recovery, as is Naby Keïta, and Klopp would be well served by allowing Leighton Clarkson another run-out, perhaps handing debuts to Tyler Morton, James Balagizi, or Elijah Dixon-Bonner.
Up top, Diogo Jota is still in a brace and weeks away from returning to training, but Sadio Mané, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah are all closing in on 2,000 minutes played this season, so maybe let Layton Stewart, Jack Bearne and Luis Longstaff get a run-out.
What the Managers Said
Jürgen Klopp: “It’s important – football games are important. We are professional football players or coaches or managers and the only thing we have to do is to win football games and to try to make sure that we really can do that. It’s a very important competition, so we will try to win that.”
Dean Smith: “*live footage of an empty chair as Villa’s press conference has been canceled due to the corona virus outbreak*”
Referee: Craig Pawson
Assistant referees: Stuart Burt, Richard West
Fourth official: Anthony Taylor
VAR: Paul Tierney, Constantine Hatzidakis
Kickoff is set for 7:45PM GMT/2:45PM EST tomorrow, and television listings for the match can be found on LiveSoccerTV.
In the meantime, and as always, we’ll be keeping you updated with all the buildup to the game, including team news as it’s released, our live matchday thread, and post-match recaps from The Liverpool Offside staff. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account to have your say on the action as it happens.