Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 9/2
For the second time this season, Aston Villa will welcome Liverpool to the Villa Park in Birmingham when the two sides meet in the third round of the FA Cup on Friday evening.
The first time these two teams met this term was certainly memorable for Dean Smith’s team. It was a Premier League clash in early October, and they hit the reigning champions hard, putting no less than seven goals past them and receiving only two in return. It was arguably the most shocking result of the 2020-21 in the English top flight so far.
Villa took more big scalps than just the one this season, and the campaign has been going truly well for them. Having barely escaped relegation the last time around, they sit in eighth place at the moment, with 26 points from 15 games. That’s seven points less than Liverpool at the top, with two games in hand.
Villa are still going strong. They’ve lost only one of their last six games – an extremely unlucky 2-1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, winning three (0-1 away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, 3-0 at home against Crystal Palace and 0-3 away to West Bromwich Albion) and drawing two (0-0 at home against Burnley and 1-1 away to Chelsea).
With things looking well enough in the league and their next match to be played six days later, Smith will likely put out a team as strong as possible and try to beat Liverpool again, taking advantage of the visitors’ struggles with injuries amid a packed schedule, as well as their intention to defend the league title.
The manager will likely want the newly recovered Ross Barkley in his team, with the former Everton man always looking motivated against Liverpool. Ollie Watkins is practically certain to start upfront, but fellow striker Wesley and winger Trezeguet are out through injury.
It has been somewhat of a roller coaster for Liverpool this season, but the Reds have still managed to hold on to the top spot in the Premier League so far. They do, however, share it with arch-rivals Manchester United with both teams on 33 points and United actually having a game in hand. Liverpool, on the other hand, have a much better goal-difference. It’s important to beat in mind that these two teams meet in the Premier League at Anfield just nine days after this trip of the Reds to Birmingham.
In any other circumstances, Liverpool would be expected to go full throttle against Smith’s team and make them pay for the embarrassment they caused them in October. As it is, they will likely be far more worried about United’s visit and the battle for the top spot in the league, and the revenge towards Villa will have to wait until they meet at Anfield in April. Manager Jurgen Klopp won’t want to risk fresh injuries at this point.
Manager Jurgen Klopp won’t be able to call upon defenders Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip – that’s practically every senior centre-back in his squad. He’ll probably put Nathaniel Phillips or 19-year-old Rhys Williams in the heart of defence alongside midfielder Fabinho.
Midfielder Naby Keita is also out, as is forward Diogo Jota, which means Divock Origi is likely to start in attack.
It remains to be seen if Klopp puts Alisson Becker between the posts or decides to give this game to young Caoimhin Kelleher instead. Neco Williams could also come into the side in the place of Trent Alexander-Arnold, and the same would apply to Kostas Tsimikas for Andy Robertson, if it weren’t for the fact that the Greece international is also ruled out.
With everything concerning this game put into context, it seems more than likely that Aston Villa will pull another victory over Liverpool, even though the bookies don’t see it that way.
Verdict: Home win
Best odds: 9/2
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