GAMETIME: 9am Sunday Eastern, 2pm British
TV: Fox Soccer Plus
Recently, it seems like there's no more bland club than Aston Villa. A couple years ago, when Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor burst on the scene, they were quite exciting and Martin O'Neill and them purring, But that didn't last, and from what I can recall from most of my football supporting life Vila have just kind of been there. They just exist. Occasionally they flirt with a European place, maybe buy relegation a drink and wink from the other side of the bar. But usually, they're just a seat filler. Even though it's better for Villa fans that Doug Ellis isn't around any more, at least he could be counted on to piss people off and keep them somewhat interesting. Maybe it's a childhood spent being abused by former Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz that gives me that type of Stockholm Syndrome. Whatever, another trip to Villa Park it is.
Under Alex McLeish, Villa have been as predictably boring as you might expect. They hover just over the relegation zone, having only won four times and drawn seven. They don't score hardly at all, they don't concede at much of a rate. That's a fine combo there, hiring the former manager of your fiercest rival who got them relegated to anger pretty much the entire fanbase, and then play unbelievably bad football which isn't going to turn anyone.
The Villains will be without Shay Given and Agbonlahor, who is suspended -- the former is hurt. They'll throw a 4-4-2 at Liverpool, with Heskey and Bent forming a completely misfiring front two at the moment. When Bent isn't scoring, he really isn't doing anything of note. And Heskey's never scoring. Stillian Petrov, Fabian Delph will probably form the center of the park with Charles N'Zogbia and either Mark Albrighton or Barry Bannan manning the flanks. Their back four is comprised of Alan Hutton, Richard Dunne, Collins, and old friend Steven Warnock. Just look at the excitement packed in that lineup!
For our Reds, a win probably means an unchanged side, though I think we'd all like to see Bellamy replace Kuyt. Bellamy and Suarez have had an understanding since the moment he Welshman exited Wales, and they really can produce some eye-catching stuff. It gets better when combined with Maxi. Perhaps Kuyt could slide back and take Downing's spot, but Downing was much improved against QPR, even though his inclusion without Carroll doesn't always make the most sense. Everything else should be the same, with Henderson and Adam hoping to impress again in midfield.
Liverpool have been better away from home, where the pressure isn't as high. But they don't always play that well at Villa Park, or so it just feels like. They lost in the last game of the year last year, although there was nothing to play for that day. Two years ago, almost exactly, they needed a late Torres winner to salvage what was simply a horrible match.
One goal will probably decide it. Liverpool are more likely to get it. It probably will not be one for the scrapbook. But these days, we're pretty much asking for the points.