It’s a jovial time of year. Chocolate eggs, smiling children and two glorious bank holidays. So, trust Villa to have a vital fixture sandwiched amongst this, all primed and ready to put a massive downer on things. However, whilst Villa go to Anfield in search of vital points towards guaranteeing Premiership status, our hosts are on arguably an even worse run of form. Indeed, Liverpool’s six recent league defeats are particularly remarkable given the calibre of some who they have faced.
The Liverpool team that Villa will line up against have been defeated by Wigan, Q.P.R and Sunderland. Poor to average sides at best it must be agreed. Yes, Liverpool have a trophy in the cabinet having won the League Cup, but it is equally important to cast ones mind back to that day also. Cardiff were beaten in the most frantic, desperate and unconvincing of terms. They are likely still trying to work out quite how they didn’t take the cup home themselves.
Villa should be staring long and hard at the current Liverpool team and have them circled as candidates for a very winnable fixture. This is no Liverpool side of old, this is a mere shell of a former giant. A huge club, there is not doubt, but Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing are not going to be winning Premier Leagues any time soon. The less said about Henderson and Adam is probably for the best also. Further, the much lauded Kenny Dalglish looks massively out of touch with the modern game in his attempts to deflect justified criticism of himself and those expensive purchases. Villa should take full advantage of this delusion and disarray in the home ranks.
Also, Villa do not need to fear Liverpool, Suarez possibly aside, they carry no terrifying unstoppable threat. Stifle the supply and our opponents often look bereft of ideas and the spark with which to unlock even the Cardiff’s of this world.
However, Villa need to remember to take the game to teams before it is too late. This was best shown at the Chelsea game. The attributes are there, but it is down to individual players to take games by the scruff of the neck and make things happen. I don’t buy the notion that McLeish sits any of the Villa players down and tells them to play negatively. I do think that he has instructed them to not waste the ball, perhaps breeding an unpalatable culture of sideways and backwards passing. This is where senior players need to be clever, attempting those important passes and having the confidence to carry the ball into the final third of the pitch. Blindingly obvious to any fan but often less so to your average footballer; but then the likelihood of any candidates for Nobel prizes has always been somewhat limited in the profession.
A major barrier to Villa overcoming Liverpool could well be a team completely decimated by injury. One need look no further than the bench versus Chelsea to underline the threadbare nature of the squad when sixteen year old boys are removed from boot cleaning duty to pull on a shirt potentially opposite Torres, Terry and co. But, this is also the kind of game that those youth players frequently heralded as the future can establish themselves. Only on the Premiership stage, in front of huge crowds, at iconic football stadia will the men be sorted from the boys. We need to win matches, somebody needs to step forward and shoulder the burden.
And perhaps with fielding the boys comes the element of surprise. What will Liverpool make of Nathan Baker, Gary Gardner, Chris Herd etc? The latter two particularly look most likely to become seasoned Premier League players; games that need winning such as this Saturday are where they may prove this to be the case. Also the likes of Bannan and Albrighton need to step up. Bannan, despite his diminutive frame clearly has the skills (and the ego), but seemingly lacks the footballing brain with which to deploy them to regular good effect. Albrighton has suffered from criminally indifferent form following an impressive first season. His last appearance showed his best and worst in creating a goal, but also too many instances of wastefulness for a team in need of much more from its players.
Finally, it is also worth considering the impact that the news of Petrov’s terrible illness has had upon the club. There were a couple of days prior to last weekends match where it was not unforeseeable that his absence could truly be checkmate for our season. A genuine hammer blow to morale and mood in a camp in dire shortage of both. But the atmosphere, guile and determination shown against Chelsea confirmed the opposite, Villa appeared galvanised by the news. And whilst ultimately we were undone by superior opposition, the players showed enough to suggest that we will fight for every point ahead. Liverpool on the other hand, do they have this desire in them?
Saturday will reveal all.