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Welcome Back, Gerard: Liverpool v. Villa Preview

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For some reason, the visit of Aston Villa always makes me urpy.  Before winning at Anfield last year, I don't remember Villa having a great record at Anfield, but I'd have to check.  But what I do know is that other than the 5-0 thrashing during the Spring March To The Sea in '09, games between these two are always tight.  And the thought of Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young (who Benitez should have signed eons ago) running at Skrtel and Menelaus makes me reach for the pepto.

This will also mark Gerard Houllier's return to Anfield since being dismissed before the Benitez Era.  I'm sure he'll get a warm reception from the Kop, and though I had mixed feelings on his reign, he did provide the plastic treble of 2001, the first time Liverpool had won anything since I started supporting them, and for that I'm forever grateful.  Though that UEFA Cup Final took years off my life.  No one should have that many Budweisers before three in the afternoon.  Houllier's team was unquestionably boring at times, and he himself has a lot to answer for that crash outs against Leverkusen and Basel, the former when he took off Diti Hamann for inexplicable reasons and let Michael Ballack off the leash.  That really may have cost the Pool a genuine chance at The Final, as United waiting in the semis were still a team that Houllier had the voodoo hex over at the time.  Zidane probably would have run us over anyway in the Final.  Ah well.

As for this Villa team, Houllier has let some of the kids through, or been forced to in others.  They haven't won in five games in all competitions though, and are coming off what must be a stinging defeat to their neighbors Birmingham in the League Cup.  That game saw some crowd trouble on the eve of the World Cup vote, though I doubt that had anything to do with it.  Still, this team really should have beaten United as they were clearly the better team for 77 minutes before another United rescue/opponent balls-up.  Two of their youngsters, Barry Bannan and Marc Albrighton look like real pieces.  And the fact that Bannan could be reigning down on Paul Konchesky is a thought not for the feint of heart.  Or anyone, really.  God help us. 

I would imagine Hodgson will go with the same team that should have gotten something out of White Hart Lane -- even if one of those pieces is completely responsible for us not doing so -- with Kyrgiakos coming in for the broken Carragher.  While I don't think Ngog and Torres make the best striking duo and Jovonavic should have at least earned another shot after Steaua, it's not how things tend to work this year.

Villa haven't kept a clean sheet since holding Chelsea, strangely, in October.  If Liverpool come with the bit between their teeth, they will get rewarded.  That said, Villa can counter as quickly as anyone, and with the all the pace of a deceased elephant in the Reds backline, I really wonder if Roy will let them venture too far up the pitch.  But this is another struggling team that simply must be beaten, and I hope they know that.