Since December hit, all of us have pointed at it as the time that if Liverpool were ever going to get on a streak, this would be it. It didn't start that way, but after two straight wins in the league and three overall, and two home fixtures against bottom-half teams up next, you feel like Liverpool finally have their toes on the edge and are ready to dive into the pool. Because if not now, when?
And Villa really should be cannon fodder. Only out of the relegation zone on goal-difference, having scored 12 goals in the league all season, with a banged-up backline, and Darren Bent out injured, this is a side begging to be bent over and then sent on their way with barely a goodbye and an assurance that we won't be calling tomorrow.
Villa will be as buoyant as they've been, whatever you think that might count for, after playing their way into the League Cup semifinals with a 4-1 thrashing of Norwich. It probably would have been even more special to Paul Lambert, as that's where he came to Villa from. The Villans have a thin, young squad that is adjusting to a new playing style after breaking off the dour and miserable shackles of Alex McLeish. Hey, that sounds familiar.
That isn't to say there aren't some players here who could turn this match on its head if given the chance. Christian Benteke is the first to roll off the tongue. While he hasn't won over all the Villa support, every time I see him he's a danger. Can play on the wing or up front, he gets in goal-scoring areas wherever. With Bent out, young striker Andreas Weimann will probably get a start. He's only scored twice in the league, but both came against ManUre at home, so he can sniff it out if given the chance. I've always liked Barry Bannan in midfield, and Agbonlahor is still somewhat capable of showing the flash from a couple years ago that made us think he could be a star instead of a balding dude who almost made it.
But they still blow. And that's all that should matter.
With a full week between matches and a returning Suarez, the only questions are who goes on the other side of Sterling, who will comprise the midfield, and what will happen if Enrique doesn't make it as he likely won't.
The first question is likely Shelvey. He's started in the front line in the two league wins and came on for the Europa win. He's been productive in all of them. While Rodgers hasn't gone a league match without Joe Allen, I'll go on a ledge and say Jordan Henderson starts between Gerrard and Lucas. In defense, Downing probably starts against his old club for reasons I can't identify. I'd much rather see Wisdom with Johnson flipped over or Jack Robinson. But I won't.
With Villa going to a three at the back system to combat injuries, it's important that Sterling and Shelvey stay a little wider than they normally would. Getting Suarez isolated should be deadly. If nothing else, keeping Villa's wingbacks pinned should blunt whatever blunt Villa attack was coming. The reason I'd like Henderson over Allen is he's done a better job of getting into the box and farther forward lately, and that doesn't really look to be Allen's game at the moment. Sahin could I suppose as well, but Hendo has earned it over him.
With Villa and Fulham at home, six of six is the requirement and the only acceptable tally for the next two matches. Do that, and we might start to get very excited about where Liverpool stand after that.
The match is on here in the States live on Fuel TV. It's channel 618 on Direct TV. I think it's pretty well distributed to other cable outlets as well.