Prediction: Aston Villa vs Liverpool
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 3/4
The World Cup is over and the Carabao Cup round which followed it fast has come to an end as well. The Premier League is back with a host of Boxing Day fixtures, and one of them takes place on Monday evening at Villa Park, where Aston Villa welcome Liverpool.
There is one particular name which is on everybody’s lips these days when it comes to Aston Villa, for several different reasons. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was one of the heroes for Argentina as they emerged from the World Cup victorious, lifting the greatest trophy in football for the third time ever and the first time since 1986 and the days of the iconic Diego Armando Maradona. However, his achievements have since been arguably stained by extremely unsportsmanlike behavour at the very end of the final against France, and the disgraceful abuse the 30-year-old aimed at Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe during the celebrations with millions of people in the streets of Buenos Aires.
But back on the football pitches of England, Villa are currently in 12th place in the Premier League after 15 matches with 18 points, just five more than Nottingham Forest as the closest team inside the relegation zone. That’s obviously too close for comfort at this point and having parted ways with Liverpool icon Steven Gerrard, they appointed Unai Emery as the manager at the start of November. The change has already produced results as victories at home over Manchester United and away to Brighton and Hove Albion improved the situation significantly ahead of the World Cup. On the other hand, United got their revenge by knocking Emery’s Villa out of the Carabao Cup.
It remains to be seen just how the long break has affected this team, but as for the last-six run of competitive matches, it consists of a 3-0 loss away to Fulham, a 4-0 win at home over Brentford, a 4-0 defeat away to Newcastle, a 3-1 win over Manchester United and a 4-2 Carabao Cup defeat away to the same opponent, and a 1-2 win away to Brighton.
During the World Cup, Villa played several friendly matches and lost 3-1 to Cardiff City, drew 2-2 with Brighton, beat Chelsea 1-0 and lost 0-1 to Villarreal.
Martinez isn’t expected back with his club for this match. Emery insists the controversial goalkeeper needs more rest after his Argentina heroics, which means Robin Olsen is likely to deputize between the posts if he overcomes a minor injury issue. If not, it’ll be Jed Steers.
Right-back Matty Cash represented Poland at the World cup but having left the tournament after the round of 16, he should be in contention by now.
The players absent through injury are defender Diego Carlos (Achilles tendon) and midfielder Jacob Ramsey (thigh), while former Liverpool star Philippe Coutinho is a doubt as he works towards recovering from a hamstring problem.
If Olsen starts, he’ll be looking at the backs of centre-back duo of Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa, flanked by Cash and Lucas Digne. Douglas Luiz, John McGinn and Boubacar Kamara are likely to form the midfield section, though Leander Dendocker is also an option having dropped out of the World Cup with Belgium after the group stage. Leon Bailey and Emiliano Buendia should be flanking Ollie Watkins upfront, with Danny Ings waiting for a chance to hurt his former club from the bench.
The season hasn’t been going well for Liverpool, and from being last season’s runners-up and tipped to challenge for the title again, they’ve gone to being extremely worried about making the top four. As things stand, they are in sixth place with 22 points, four less than Manchester United in fifth, seven less than Tottenham Hotspur in fourth, and eight less than Newcastle in third, though they have a game in hand on the latter two.
As for Aston Villa, the Carabao Cup is over for Liverpool as well. Their title defence in that competition came to an end on Thursday, with Premier League champions Manchester City getting the better of them at the Etihad. In the Champions League, they finished second behind Napoli in their group, and in the round of 16, they’ve been drawn to face Real Madrid to whom they lost the final last season.
Liverpool’s last six competitive matches include a 1-2 defeat at home to Leeds United, a 2-0 win over Napoli in the Champions League, a 1-2 win over Spurs in North London, a penalty shootout win over Derby County in the previous Carabao Cup round, a 3-1 win at home over Southampton, and that 3-2 defeat to Manchester City in the Carabao Cup this week.
As usual, manager Jurgen Klopp has a number of injury issues to work around for the Monday clash. On top of centre-back Ibrahima Konate not being back after playing the World Cup final yet, the players missing are forwards Roberto Firmino (calf), Diogo Jota (calf) and Luis Diaz (knee), as well as midfielders James Milner (thigh), Curtis Jones (calf) and Arthur Melo (thigh). Defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold and Virgil van Dijk face late involvement decision, with the England right-back recovering from a virus and the Netherlands captain building up his fitness after the World Cup.
Alisson Becker should be back between the posts, with Joel Matip sure to start in the heart of defence alongside either Van Dijk or Joe Gomez. Andy Robertson should start on the left, and on the right, if Alexander-Arnold doesn’t play, it could be young Calvin Ramsay, or Gomez if Van Dijk is deemed ready. Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara are set to start in midfield, likely with captain Jordan Henderson in there as well, and with very little choice upfront, it feels Darwin Nunez is as sure to start as Mohamed Salah, with either Fabio Carvalho or Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the left.
Liverpool simply must win games like this and with Martinez absent from the goal for Villa, they should find the back of the opposition net will less trouble, with all due respect to Olsen.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 3/4
Curated from: https://www.soccernews.com/prediction-aston-villa-vs-liverpool-10/347225/
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