07.12.2010, 01: 25 IST – Live On ESPN
Liverpool have been riding an unlucky horse so far this season and looking at the recent injuries to the club’s top players, there is reason to believe that Anfield will bear an air of trepidation when the Frenchman returns on Monday night. Gerrard Houllier is no stranger to the club and will hope for a victory at Anfield – but this time for Aston Villa.
Although their Europa League venture has been progressing well, the Reds are caught in a vortex in the Premier League, with sporadic injuries threatening the club’s stability and position in the league. The latest victim to visit the doctors was club hero Jamie Carragher. With this injury list growing longer, Roy Hodgson will surely have to turn to young talent to provide the much needed impetus. Liverpool has recently progressed to the final 32 of the Europa League. But if they do not find their Premier League form soon enough, Roy is bound to be caught in no man’s land. It is close to mid-season and Liverpool need to surge ahead if they have to break into the top 4 that has eluded them so far this season.
Aston Villa, despite their recent loss to derby rivals Birmingham in the Carling Cup and their position in the league, will arrive at Anfield feeling confident because of their Gaffer. Houllier’s previous tenure with the Reds would have equipped him with a strategy that he will look to now deploy against his former club. Aston Villa have been in the news for their youngsters so far this season. It may be the reason why they haven’t progressed as expected, but no such excuse will hold credence on Monday night. A win against Liverpool will lift the Villains to the top half of the Barclays Premier League table and probably shelve any qualms that Arsene Wenger initially had, on Gerrard Houllier’s appointment as Aston Villa manager.
Team News and Tactical Brief
Jamie Carragher is bitterly disappointed with his injury but this might just prompt NESV to foray into the market to look for an able replacement. However, till that move yields success, Roy will have to go for a makeshift pair; which means that Sotiros Kyriagkos is most likely to take the place of the legendary Scouser on Monday night. He will be joined with Martin Skrtel in the centre of defence. Much to Houllier’s relief, Steven Gerrard continues to be a spectator due to injury. On the other hand though, Joe Cole has made his return from injury; but seems to have cut a frustrated figure due to the lack of participation this season. Although he seems to be denying this frustration, his presence, if it does happen, should do his confidence a world of good.
The rest of the squad seems to be slowly settling into a functional unit and Roy will be looking to spur them on, in order to attack Villa early on – a tactic that seems to be working for Liverpool over the last two games. Villa’s defence is not the strongest in the league and an early goal will give the Reds an advantage to eventually secure a victory.
Probable Starting XI: Reina, Kyriagkos, Skrtel, Koncheskey, Johnson, Lucas, Meireles, Maxi, Kuyt, Torres, Babel.
Although a few injuries to first team players have compelled Houllier to bring the young guns into the first team, he has expressed his belief in his young squad. From the injury list, temporary captain Reo-Coker is back in training following his knee injury but still remains unavailable for selection. Another important senior, Stylian Petrov, too continues to preclude from the team sheet. The Bulgarian is ruled out after he too suffered a knee injury in Villa’s game against Sunderland in October. Youngsters Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan are also doubtful for this encounter. And to make matters worse for the Villains, Ashley Young is serving a one-match suspension while Emile Heskey is set to undergo a late fitness test before he can be included in the starting XI or on bench.
Aston Villa’s defence has been shaky this season and the key to stop a striker like Fernando Torres in a 4-4-2 combination is to be quick. Torres has been making runs across the box in the past couple of games due to the presence of another striker near goal and if this has to stop, then full backs Stephen Warnock and Carlos Cuellar must be on their toes. In attack, Stephen Ireland might be given a chance in the midfield, in that case he will have to play the anchoring role. Paul Konchesky’s form hasn’t yet hit the peak and in Young’s absence, he might be up against the highly experienced Robert Pires.
Possible Starting XI: Friedel, Collins, Dunne, Cuellar, Warnock, Downing, Ireland , Hogg, Pires, Carew, Agbonlahor.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Raul Meireles (Liverpool): Meireles has been performing really well for Liverpool over the past few games. Despite being a new signing, he has quickly forged a working relationship with Lucas in midfield and looks very dangerous going forward.
Liverpool 1 – 0 Aston Villa
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST