It's game day, and what a game we've got on our hands today. A Liverpool team coming off the back of a disappointing result against Spurs and the Villa coming off the back of two wins in a row, it'll be an interesting one, to say the least. Pep has mentioned that half the country are Liverpool fans, well I can promise you lad tonight the last thing we want to see is Liverpool reigning supreme....despite the Jack stuff. In the most unlikely scenarios, we'll have United and City fans wanting the Villa to perform well, actually judging by Twitter (which you really should not do) most EPL fans want Liverpool to stumble once more and I've just got this feeling we're going to do it.
Well, we all remember our last home outing against these lot. I remember coming out of a delightful hangover when the first whistle went and the previous night I had a great chat with some Villa fans I had a boozy day with and we had watched Leeds get a result against City. I'd stated "If Leeds are getting this, we need to be doing something against Liverpool to stay in contention", now I wasn't exactly mystic meg but we got something didn't we! An all star peformance from Grealish and Watkins gave us a night to remember for a very long time and one that is not talked about anywhere near enough, remember these were the reigning PL champions and they'd been demolished by Aston Villa who's last result against Liverpool at home was in May of 2011. So, forgive us for sitting in this one and to be honest, do not expect it to stop anytime soon. The stats are all against us, as mentioned TWO wins in TWELVE years doesn't make for the best reading however these end-of-season tussles with title-chasing teams always draw up some fun surprises, Crystanbul anyone? I mean, I guess I have mentioned that Semi-final result and technically we were the home team in that tie if we're going to get stooped into the technicalities of it all. Looking at the history of a fixture can sometimes be very telling yet when we look at our history playing Burnley away well, that simply didn't matter in the end did it? We'll be relying on tactical nouse and perhaps using some tips taken from Spurs in their result against LFC on Saturday.
THE TACTICAL SIDE
I'm going to put out a bold shout here, we are not as tactically rounded as Liverpool. Proper insightful journalism I know. However, that does not mean that we have to simply go into this fixture expecting a 7-0 drubbing, quite the contrary. Liverpool can have a real tough time playing against a side not desperate to press them where they want to be pressed, to not simply go so toe-to-toe with them that you give them an easy knockout punch by the 30th minute. Villa have had two main identities under Gerrard, the 4-3-3 and the 4-4-2 diamond and I know it causes a bit of debate amongst our fans but I do believe the diamond is out best formation whilst it does limit out wide players. It isn't a system that fits both Coutinho and Buendia that much is clear but it allows Ings and Watkins to play with each other and whoever it is sitting behind them to have the freedom and outlets there to progress throughout the final third. Having Tim, Nakamba or possibly Chambers in the central DM role allows Ramsey, Mcginn or Luiz that extra freedom in midfield to find a better pass or carry the ball onwards. I mean I've just come off the back of writing an article on our midfield and one of our other writers James also made a great piece on it but it really is our key to this game because it;s likely Liverpool will be pressing us back for 70 minutes bare minimum and when we do have our chances going forward we need that defensive protection from their immense counter-attacking force they'll have. It'll be vital for the Villa defence to be comfortable under the press, I know Mings quite enjoys allowing that press to play the ball long and out to exploit the new space from the pressed players but I have seen too often both CB's and even Martinez make a sloppy pass out leading to a throw in, corner or even at times straight to an opposing player. It's exactly what Liverpool will be looking for. I know it became a question on the possibilty of Villa playing a back 5 and Saturday threw up that question with Chambers satarting and whilst that didn't happen...could it? My reservations are, we haven't and do not play it and to trial it against title chasing Liverpool is a risk I'm not sure even Gerrard would want to take.
It's certain to be a real tough ride for the Villa boys. Liverpool will likely start with the same front trio of Mane, Salah and Diaz which already gives me slight heart palpatations. I'm sure that they'll also have the midfield set up with Thiago, Fabinho and one of Naby Keita or Jordan Henderson meaning they'll have an idea on dominating posession and having that ability to counter us if need be with a swift pass from any of those three likely to be inch perfect knowing them. It will be up to Villa to soak up the pressure Liverpool give and playing a much smarter and conserved way, I do not see us running riot with a 7-2 drubbing again...but you never know right?
It'll always be difficult coming up against these top sides and let's be honest we have no record to back ourselves on this. Only against United this season have we had both great performances and results. Is it fear? Lack of ability? Lack of quality? All of the above most likely. It's vital we get ready to hold fast against these guys. Liverpool play with a style designed to either control the game, or destroy your ability to control it against them. Press, press and more press whilst using the ability to play wonderpass from a right back, centre midfield and attack to keep their options open and ultimately damaging. Digne will have his work cut out for him with Salah who as shown against Spurs will stop at nothing to attempt to beat his man and get the shot off on goal, with Cash likely to have Diaz attempting to twist and turn him inside out with no-look passes and touches I've seen that make me go....wow. Yes Liverpool do play entertaining football, but I sure as hell won't be entertained by it today and I cannot wait for Cash to use his famous slide tackles to show Diaz it isn't going to be the walk in the park he'd expect.
Despite being aware we played only three days ago, I haven't changed much in my predicted XI despite the change that's most likely with Ings dropping out for Coutinho. I just know that Phil won't be on the bench for two games running and that it's not exactly uncommon for Stevie to alternate between formations midweek and he lightly hinted towards it post-Burnely. I don't see why we should change our shape when it has always been our best performing system of the seaons and whilst some may say to have a wider play and get Phillipe on the left-wing to attack Trent's relatively poor defensive sde of his game. I've somehow managed to type that out and somehwta told myself the 4-3-3 may be good to take today. Yeah; I've convinced myself that Stevie is going to take it that way. It'll come down to how the individual battles work throughout the pitch from Mings to Mcginn, from Cash to Watkins all we need is every single one of these boys to turn up today and be ready to slog it out with a team that'll be relentless. Now, don't be too surprised if Gerrard does stick to a diamond midfield as more bodies in the midfield wouldn't exactly hurt against this side.
I do miss having the running baility of Ramsey to throw himself from centre-circle to box almost effortlessly and give us that dynamic ability in midfield yet I just see Gerrard keeping it a bit more solid in the centre with players more likely to get gritty in the tackle. This is also a game where McGinn can show exactly what he's got to hand and why we nee dhim going forward. Win those scrappy fouls at both ends, winning 50/50s and even at his worst just throw in for a tackle to take the booking and save us from that front three barreling down on us.
The base line is this, it's our second hardest game remaining for the season. It's a game many would have written off, some will be hoping we lose so a certain English winger remains trophyless for the season. You've got to have faith, be...Faithful ;-). Liveprool will throw the kitchen sink at us to get three points and keep on the desperate chase of the blue side of Manchester and that sort of hopeful desperation could help us at points in the game but this side have played three times a week many times this seaon and kept up their press and power which is ultimately frightening. It'll be up to those travelling to Villa park to make an atmosphere to back the lads to remain strong and possibly throw out a result that could shape the season from the top and take us to the top half. A point I did not utilise enough, these players in my eyes still have something to play for. A top half finish is on the cards and would be a set i'd love to be holding. Progression is key, top half would show that and hopefully would take away the Gerrard doubters. This is the type of game where a solid performance from players, a clear identity and points to take forward could give us the ability to see where we could be next season with some decent additions. It's my main focus tonight, is seeing a style that's had some thought behind it and the players to go through the motions with us and show they're still fighting and not got two legs up on the beaches of Miami with a Pina Colada in hand.
That's about that, it'll be a tough game for the Villa boys but all we need to do is support the lads. Make Villa park a threat again, no more sighs at songs or anger at passion. Sing, shout, scream. Anything to back the lads in claret and blue. It's the least we could do.