LIVERPOOL VS. ASTON VILLA
| Saturday, May 19th |
Premier League | Anfield
3PM GMT/10AM EST
Aston Villa manager Unai Emery has confirmed that Phillipe Coutinho is out for the season for Villa, but everyone else is fit and available.
Emery is a major favorite for Manager of the Season due to the turnaround he’s managed at Villa, who were on a trajectory toward relegation before he came in. They are now fighting for European football, and will come to Anfield very much with something to play for — unfortunately for us.
Predicting what they’ll do is difficult, as Emery tailors a plan for each opposition he faces. Their defense has improved massively, and we can expect them to play with a bit more caution than they have done at times of late; they should be a defensive test for the Reds, particularly after coming up against a Leicester side who loved nothing more than giving Liverpool attackers some space.
Tyrone Mings is a key name for Emery’s Villa, as the centerback was previously injury-prone and now has improved to become one of Villa’s key performers. He has been solid, with better support allowing him to limit his errors (both positionally and on the ball).
Another positive for Liverpool is that Aston Villa’s away form has not been good this season, with them last gaining a win away against struggling Leicester City (with 10 men) and Chelsea back in April. Prior to that was Everton back inn February and Southampton in January. Though they have managed some away draws, the Reds can take heart that Villa excels away most when playing poor sides out of form — and we hope the Reds aren’t in that box anymore!
Aston Villa tend to be solid, so Liverpool will need to take the chances they get — and put them in against a goalkeeper in form. Going the other way, Ollie Watkins is one to watch out for, as he’s been good this season, and has shown himself unafraid of scoring against the big boys.
Should Anfield manage the emotion of Saturday well, the crowd can add an additional factor, making it a harder game for Villa to play.
Predicted Liverpool Lineup (4-3-3)
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Konaté, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Jones; Salah, Gakpo, Díaz
But I digress; in terms of expected line-up: there is choice for the front three even though Darwin Núñez is out injured with inflammation to the tendon in his tow. Expect to see Mohamed Salah and two of either Cody Gakpo, Diogo Jota, and Luis Díaz to start up front for Liverpool.
Given Curtis Jones’ good form and the moment in the season (as well as the week’s rest the Reds have been afforded), we can expect him to start in Liverpool’s midfield. His midfield partners are less certain, though given everyone is in full fitness the older heads of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho might be best suited for the tactical challenge of Emery’s Villa.
Coming in from three clean sheets, you’d assume the back five would remain unchanged.
Though this is very much the Bobby Firmino and James Milner show, I don’t think many of us expect either to start the match — and indeed most of us will remember Steven Gerrard’s last game and want to get the job done before getting taken over by emotion. This makes what happened spontaneously last time out all the better: we’ve already started saying goodbye to the man in the best possible way, and a serenade for 11 straight minutes, and more post-kickoff, is a beautiful way to go.
It’s in a lot of ways a shame four players were announced to be leaving at once, as all four deserve their own moment, even if not all four will be the same. Milner and Firmino were very much the men who made this Liverpool side that won it all, whereas Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keïta were both solid contributors, but never the main men. As a result, they are in danger of being a bit overlooked.
For Oxlade-Chamberlain especially this is quite unfortunate: he’s had a hard, hard road at Liverpool, and was very unlucky with injury. Thinking back, he was really in the form of his life when he got injured for the first time.
On the other hand, while Keïta certainly made important contributions while at Liverpool, it’s clear that he has not lived up to what the club hoped for — and I maintain that his transfer going wrong is a major reason why there’s a gap in the midfield rebuild. Liverpool cannot afford to pay that much money for a player who is not central to the side, which is, of course, not Keïta’s fault: he didn’t price or scout himself.
In his press conference, Klopp stressed that Firmino and Milner “would not like it” if people forgot “Ox and Naby.”
Regardless of the complications, we hope it’s a joyful occasion.
It’s also worth noting that there will be applause on the seventh minute in honor of Dan Kay, a Liverpool journalist and Hillsborough campaigner who passed away unexpectedly last week. For those who never met Dan, Caoimhe O’Neill’s “A Letter to Dan Kay” for The Athletic is worth a read.
What the Managers Had to Say
Jurgen Klopp: “Henderson is in training now since three days or four days [ago]. It is fantastic that he is back. He lost nothing, no skills or anything.”
Unai Emery: “Playing against Liverpool in Liverpool always was, always is and always will be very very difficult and a challenge.”
Referee: John Brooks Assistants: Matthew Wilkes, James Mainwaring Fourth Official: Michael Oliver VAR: Tony Harrington Assistant VAR: Nick Greenhalgh
Kickoff is set for 3PM GMT/10AM EST tomorrow. Stick with The Liverpool Offside team to keep yourself up to date with team news and match buildup, live updates, and post-match reaction. If you want to join the discussion, sign up for an SB Nation account and have your say on the action as it happens.