Saturday, March 21, 2009

Match Preview: Liverpool vs Aston Villa

By Gareth Freeman

Winning the league may still be a long-shot but this is now a massive game. Had the game been a draw the race would have been all but over but for Liverpool to win so emphatically gave at least a glimmer of hope the trophy could be heading to Anfield. The win may have been a historic one but it will count for very little if they don’t follow it up with a win over Aston Villa.

Based on recent performances I would expect Liverpool to beat Villa at Anfield. They were fairly poor against Spurs last weekend but there could be a reaction from their players to that performance. They’ve also just dropped out of the top-four for the first time this season and no doubt they’ll want to get back into those much-coveted Champions League places.

Villa have impressed me a lot this season. They muscled their way into perhaps even challenging for the title at one point and played some pretty impressive stuff along the way. In Emile Heskey they have an excellent target man and he is always a danger. He can really bully defenders and is one of the best in the game at holding the ball up. There is also the ‘ex-player’ syndrome and I wouldn’t be surprised if Heskey upped his game at Liverpool. Personally I never thought he was quite good enough to be in a top side but he’s got the chance to prove me wrong now he is at Villa, who despite their recent drop are fast becoming a ‘top side.’

Ashley Young had a good game against Tottenham last week and ran Didier Zokora ragged in the first half. Redknapp took Zokora off and replaced him with Corluka just over half and hour into the game because he just couldn’t deal with the nippy winger. One criticism of Young this season is that he hasn’t performed as well against the bigger teams and hopefully whoever is marking him will be able to cope. James Milner is maybe overshadowed by some of his team-mates but the ex-Leeds and Newcastle midfielder has been outstanding all season. He delivers some excellent crosses and has created plenty of chances for Villa this season and has really improved under O’Neill’s guidance.

One area where Villa look less convincing is their defence. I just don’t really rate their central defenders but their full-backs look fairly decent. Torres will almost certainly find space to exploit against the Villa defence and it could be a profitable afternoon for the Spaniard.

Villa are obviously quite close to Liverpool in terms of points but I think Rafa’s men will emerge victorious. Villa have been on a bad run and won’t be looking forward to a trip to Anfield. There should be no under-estimating the importance of the win over United. The manner of the victory should give the players the belief and drive to push United all the way even though I can’t see United slipping up in enough games to let anyone else in. Because of the way both sides play and Villa’s questionable defence my advice on this game if you fancy betting would be to have a soccer bet on over 2.5 goals.

The odds won’t be great on Liverpool winning but I think both teams have the ability to get a few goals and the Reds have been in free scoring mode at the moment. If they can score four against Real Madrid and Manchester United I reckon they can put at least two past Villa, if not more, and Villa are more than capable of nicking a goal even against Liverpool’s generally solid defence.

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