Verdict: Mohamed Salah to score
Best odds: 11/10
Liverpool are set to welcome Aston Villa to Anfield on Saturday afternoon, for what will be a game within the round before last of the season in the Premier League. The game is very important for both sides, with both seeking still to achieve their own respective goals at the end of the campaign.
For Liverpool, the goal is a top-four finish and a place in next season’s Champions League. Against all odds after a largely underwhelming season, they’re in a position to hope for it, though the matter is still out of their hands.
As things stand, the Merseysiders are fifth in the Premier League table, just one point behind Manchester United in fourth and Newcastle in third, though the two rivals both have a game in hand. Therefore, what the Reds need, apart from winning both of their own remaining matches, is for one of those teams to fail to win at least twice in the remaining three. A tall order, despite Liverpool’s magnificent run of form.
Liverpool have now won their last seven matches in a row. Their victims in the last six were Nottingham Forest (3-2 at home), West Ham (1-2 away), Tottenham Hotspur (4-3 at home), Fulham (1-0 at home), Brentford (1-0 at home), and most recently Leicester City (0-3 away).
Regarding the transfer market this summer, Liverpool have just confirmed that midfielders Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be leaving as free agents, but the supporters will probably be more sad that that list also includes forward Roberto Firmino and midfielder James Milner.
If winning this match wasn’t absolutely vital, manager Jurgen Klopp would probably try to give every one of those players at least a few minutes of the game to allow the fans to give them a send-off. As it is, there’s no room to get sentimental with the team selection. Milner and Firmino may get to wear the Liverpool shirt at Anfield for one last time, and that as second-half subsitutes. For Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain, the chances of that happening are very slim.
Midfielder Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic, as well as defender Calvin Ramsay, will not play either of the two remaining matches.
Firmino is back in team training after missing the last six games through injury, and the same goes for Keita.
With Allison Becker in goal, Virgil van Dijk should command the back line alongside Ibrahima Konate. Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson will cover the fullback positions, with Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and Curtis Jones to form the midfield line. Upfront, Cody Gakpo should start, with Diogo Jota on the left and Mohamed Salah on the right.
Aston Villa have, on the other hand, had a very good season, especially since replacing former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard with Unai Emery in the dugout. The former Sevilla, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Villarreal boss has really stabilized this team and got them playing very good football. From the lower regions of the table, his team has now come within sight of European qualification.
Sitting eighth with 57 points, their tally is equal to that of Spurs in seventh, and only a point weaker than Brighton’s in sixth, though the Seagulls have two games in hand on most of the league. This race will surely be just as exciting as the one for the top four.
Aston Villa fans have also had reason to follow the transfer gossip lately. Emery has reportedly asked the club to bring in Giovani Lo Celso, the Argentinian midfielder he coached at Villarreal, on loan from Spurs.
Newcastle would have probably secured a place in the top four by now had it not been for Aston Villa on April 15th, when Emery’s men started their current last-six run with a 3-0 thrashing of the Magpies at Villa Park. A 1-1 draw away to Brentford followed, and then came a 1-0 win over Fulham at home, a 1-0 defeat away to Manchester United, a 1-0 defeat away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, and a 2-1 win over Spurs at home.
Emery won’t be able to count on former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho. The Barcelona loanee as some kind of a muscle problem keeping him out of action at the moment. Backup goalkeeper Jed Steer has been out for a while with an Achilles injury and won’t be back before the season is over.
World Cup winner Emiliano Martinez will be in goal. Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa will likely pair up in the heart of defence, with Alex Moreno on the left and Ashley Young on the right. Douglas Luiz and John McGinn will probably start in the middle of the park, with Jacob Ramsey and Leon Bailey attacking from the flanks. Striker Ollie Watkins should be supported by Emiliano Buendia upfront.
With all due respect to Emery and this team he’s managed to revive, this match will depend on Liverpool. The home side still have a huge amount of quality in their ranks and boosted by the loud voices of Anfield, they’re strong favourites to win.
Klopp may rotate his attackers in the central area and on the left, but Salah’s place on the right is undisputed and the Egyptian is very likely to get on the scoresheet, with what would be his 20th league goal this season.
Verdict: Mohamed Salah to score
Best odds: 11/10
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