Liverpool vs Aston Villa 2021
By Dean Gregory
A dramatic late comeback win over Fulham kept Villa in the top half of the table heading into the next fixture, a trip to Anfield to face an out-of-sorts Liverpool. There is a two point buffer between Villa and the bottom half, so consistent results for the remainder of the season should be enough to keep them there.
Liverpool sit in seventh place, a staggering 25 points behind Man City in first. It has been a torrid title defence for them, and they will have to fight tooth-and-nail just to secure a spot in the Champion’s League; they are currently eight points away from fourth place.
Can Villa complete what would have been a very unlikely double at the start of the season?
Liverpool – W L L W W
Aston Villa – L D D L W
Jurgen Klopp on Aston Villa
“We have to put things right (after Villa 7-2). Things like that shouldn’t happen to us. I have the game in my mind, we have to put things right for sure.
“You can’t put a game like the Villa one aside. We had to work with it. A lot of things in the game were a problem, we had to solve them. We spoke about it for sure, quite frequently.
“They are serious rivals for European football. They are really good, made some good signings. Watkins, Barkley as well. Cash very good signing. They are in contention for European spot.”
Dean Smith on injury news
“[Jack Grealish is not fit]. Myself and Jack were quite optimistic to get him back a bit sooner than he probably should and he’s had a setback that will probably put him back a couple of weeks. He was really good in training, but he couldn’t tolerate the loading. It’s a loading injury and we have to de-load him over the next few weeks and get him back from there.
“We know it’s not a long-term injury and he will be back. We all, Jack included, probably pushed him back a little bit too quickly. He wanted to get back, we wanted him to get back and he had a little setback.
“Kortney Hause is fit and he’ll be in the squad. Welsey came off in an Under-23s game but it was nothing to worry about and he’s trained ever since. He needs a few more games before he can be added to the squad.”
On European Hopes
“It would have been unthinkable at the start of the season, having stayed up by the skin of our teeth last season. Some of the results we’ve had this season, certainly the consistency we showed up until January, we’ve been a bit up and down since then.
“Defensively, we’ve been strong but we’ve probably dropped off in the attacking third and that’s something that the last 20 minutes against Fulham pleased me with.
“We’ve got to go into each game believing that we can finish in that top eight. There’s certainly a will from the players.”
Liverpool use a 4-3-3 lineup with a front three of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mané, a midfield trio of Thiago Alcantara, Fabinho and Giorginio Wijnaldum and a back four of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Nat Phillips, Ozan Kabak and Andrew Robertson.
They are characterised by their intensity, pressing hard and high at all times with or without the ball. They command 51.2% of possession and complete 81.2% of their passes, of which an average of 607 are played short per game. They move the ball well when they have it and press relentlessly, and in an organised manner, when they do not.
The philosophy they employ has always exemplified the old mantra that a good offense is the best form of defence. They average 21% of each game in their own half, spending 45% of their time in the middle and the rest pushing their opponents into their own defensive third. This high pressure and forward play is often exploited by teams that sit back and absorb it before sending a long ball over the top, something that has been a major issue for them across the whole season.
Liverpool have scored 51 goals from 54.39 xG. When their gameplan works, it works wonders. They create a lot and score almost as much, having taken 353 shots from open play this season. They are not afraid to make the most of every opportunity, no matter how small – their open play shots average 0.13 xG each.
In terms of defense, they have let in 36 goals from 37.92 xGA. Above them, only West Ham (37) have conceded more. Their system, which seemed practically unbeatable last season during their inevitable march to the title, has been found out and thwarted time and time again this season, and they are yet to come up with another way to approach games that is anywhere near as effective.
Liverpool remain one of the most dangerous teams in the league, even if their position and record across this season do not back that up. Their last match was a 3-0 win over Arsenal, so an out-of-sorts Liverpool is still a force that cannot be underestimated.
One to Watch
Mohamed Salah is the clear standout performer in a team littered with big names. His 18 goals and three assists have kept Liverpool alive and kicking this season, but perhaps even more impressive is how a player in such an advanced role, playing in the most congested area of the pitch, has managed to maintain an 84.2% pass success rate and record 3.2 shots per game.
Liverpool may be off the boil; Mo Salah is certainly not.
Liverpool 0-1 Aston Villa – 13-09-2014
Gabby Agbonlahor scored a 9th minute goal the last time Villa beat Liverpool at Anfield in the Premier League.
Aston Villa 7-2 Liverpool – 04-10-2020
A result that will live long in the memory of Villa fans, nobody could have predicted this. Ollie Watkins broke his Premier League duck with a perfect first half hat-trick, and could have easily scored at least two more. Jack Grealish also grabbed a brace to go along with his three assists, joining an elite few to have directly contributed five goals in a single PL game.
Ross Barkley enjoyed a dream debut with a starring role in the win and even chipped in with a goal; he too perhaps should have scored at least two more. John McGinn also got in on the action with a trademark long range volley.
Dean Smith’s Villa had their opponent’s number right from the off. They hatched a plan and executed it to perfection providing arguably the shock result of the season, one which Liverpool never seemed to recover from.
How it could play out
There’s no doubt about it – this is a grudge match for Liverpool, pure and simple. The abject humiliation of being battered so handily by a team that barely scraped survival the season prior, before their defensive woes started to emerge, seems to have been the beginning of a wobbly season for the defending champions.
Their last chance at vengeance did not go to plan either despite winning 4-1 in the FA Cup, when their team of mostly first-team squad members went into half-time 1-1 against Villa’s youth squad, some so young they had to be dropped off at the stadium by their parents. To rub salt in the wound, some of Villa’s best youth performers were not even available for this fixture, and the youngsters came away with most of the plaudits despite the defeat.
The stage is set, then, for another shot at redemption. This time they will be facing a Villa side severely hamstrung by the loss of the captain and main danger man, Jack Grealish, so they will be confident of a result despite their own weakened defense.
Against Fulham, Villa looked lost and devoid of ideas for the best part of 80 minutes, before suddenly bursting to life at the end via substitutions and blowing away their opponents. This rudderless Villa has become something of a theme in the absence of Grealish despite showing they are capable of playing good football in flashes without him. Those moments are too few and far between however, and Smith will need to find a way to ensure his team shows up for all 90 minutes, not just the final ten.
Liverpool have a lot to prove in this match, not just in the context of them vs Villa, who are in serious danger of becoming their bogey team. Their title defense has been abysmal, they look likely to miss out on European football altogether next season and they have to get things back on track as soon as they can. They will treat this game as a cup final and give it everything. Villa will need to find it in themselves to match them.
Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Forget the last result – that is ancient history. Villa in their current state do not inspire that level of confidence. They will have to dig in and work hard to get a result here.
Then again, that is what we all thought the last time around. Anything can happen.