Will wonders never cease? We made it through an entire international break with Steven Gerrard's groin functioning and fully attached. Hallelujah. However, there are a few played in this fixture who may be a little tired coming into this game, mainly Guzan and Suarez.
We all know what happened last time these two met, Liverpool were over powered by Benteke and lost 3-1. Worse, they were unable all game to get a goal until the 87th minute. It certainly wasn't sue to a lack of possession, Liverpool had an astonishing 72% possession in that match. It certainly wasn't a lack of shots, they took 29 that day. However, it was a day that completely summed up Liverpool's main weakness that had been prevalent early in the season, a complete lack of clinicality. Of those 29 shots, only 8 were on target with 11 being blocked
It was that loss though which sent Liverpool on their run of beating the crap out of their opponents in games they won. Since that loss, Liverpool have a scoring ratio of 27-2 in league games they've won. That's not to say they won them all, obviously, but it does show the side have it in them to hide lower table opposition. The key though, is an early goal. Liverpool have found it very tough to break down opposition that can sit deep and absorb pressure. They have in the past become impatient and just snatched at any hint of an open sight of goal no matter how good the chance. The early goal forces their opponent out of its shell and everything else is made much easier for Suarez and Sturridge.
Villa are heading into this on the back of two wins in a row, but still aren't completely clear of the relegation zone. They have everything to fight for (except maybe their owner) and are in an almost identical situation as Southampton were/are in now. They have been good on the counter this year and that is exactly how they pummeled Liverpool last match.
Our backs should be able to handle the speed of Abonglahor and neutralize that threat by just staying strong. However, it will only take one to really but Liverpool's mental toughness to the test. Lose this game and it could be a very long eight games until the end of the season.
Some talking points:
-Midfield possession is key. Liverpool cannot get sloppy with passing and cheaply give away possession in this match as they have been prone to do in the past. This is exactly what Villa will be hoping for. However, as they have started to do, they will need to play a few long balls to stretch Villa and open up space for the playmakers. Villa will make it quite difficult to tiki-taka it all the way to the back of the net.
-Can Liverpool bounce back from arguably their most embarrassing defeat of the season? They looked absolutely shell shocked after Southampton's first goal and the rest of the game just slid downhill after. They need to find the same fight and hunger that nearly sent them through against Zenit.
-Will Brendan Rodgers put someone who can be a difference maker on the bench this time? Against Southampton he had a bench of Henderson, Suso, Shelvey, Lucas, Gulacsi, Wisdom and Ibe. It was quite clear he was banking on the starting XI doing the business and almost arrogantly chose this bench.
-Can the back line handle Benteke this time? He is a big lad who is having a decent season with 13 goals on 25 starts. Based on Skrtel's play against Southampton, his play previously against Benteke and his falling out with BR, surely he will be picking splinters from his posterior for this game.
- Brad Guzan has been absolutely fantastic over the international break. He dealt with the SnowClasico quite well in a game more fit for an NHL goalie. He dealt with Mexico in the heart of El Tri country and did so admirably pulling of a few very nice saves to get the US a point. Considering that trip to Mexico City during this international break, will his confidence carry back over into his play at the club level?