W alking in a Gerrard wonderland. Aston Villa have picked up three wins in four games under the Liverpudlian's tutelage and already there is a sense that something special is being built at Villa Park. The football has been dynamic, crisp with an underlying tactical cohesion that exceeded that shown under Dean Smith (who was no slouch in this department).

Furthermore if you look at the strength of the opponents that Gerrard and his management staff have had to duel with and in most cases get the better off - it is testament to their tactical prowess and grip of the psychological side of the game that they have not been found wanting. Potter sent packing, Viera vanquished and Rodgers ruined - no easy foes. Villa were competitive against Pep's City too and that was demonstrative proof that they will go into this encounter at Anfield with genuine belief of achieving an upset.

As for Liverpool, their defeat at West Ham seems to have been a turning point. Yet if we delve deeper it is hard to discern exactly what has changed. Sometimes it can just be a case of a team beginning to throw off the shackles, a sense that the pressure has lifted - expectations have been lowered and then paradoxically results pick up with the players naturally beginning to reforge connections which were thought to be on the wane. Having said that the roles of Origi and Thiago cannot be underestimated.

Injuries wise, Villa will miss the increasingly influential presence of Leon Bailey - a player who can inject pace and width into what can at times look a rather narrow 4-3-2-1. As for Liverpool, Firmino is still out and we can expect to see their usual front three of Salah, Jota and Mane, whilst the rest of the team is at full strength.




Gerrard's side press with the front three acting as a tight self contained unit, in close proximity acting as a shield to prevent the ball being played into the midfield. This forces the opposition to either force the pass down the line or to go long. With Klopp's side so committed to playing out from the back there is the potential here for Villa to force them into the occasional error but they must be ready to take advantage as those moments will ultimately be few and far between.

Targets for the press would be whomever partners Van Dijk and possibly Thiago who despite his recent form does seem to have an error in him. If the game is played at a high tempo he is more likely to find it difficult and letting him settle could prove fatal. The battle between him and McGinn will be riveting to watch.



At home Liverpool have been deadly in the final third, scoring 8 goals in their last 2 home games and with another 4 put in against Everton (but still close to home) - this is a side that thrives when playing in the Merseyside region. However, they will face a difficult opponent in Villa who under Gerrard have dramatically reduced the amount of shots they concede on goal.

Against Arsenal and West Ham, the final games of Smith's tenure, Villa conceded 42 shots (17 on target), conceding 7 goals. Under Gerrard, they only conceded 12 shots altogether against Brighton and Palace although this did understandably jump up to 14 and 11 shots against Man City and Leicester respectively.

The organised press led by the trio up front has not been the only factor in preventing shots on goal. The return of Mings and the superb displays of McGinn and Makamba have helped provide that foundation for Villa when the going gets tough. They have rediscovered their pride for the game and because they are pillars of the team, key components of the spine, that attitude spreads through the branches of the side.


Gerrard is renowned for unleashing his full backs but as we saw against City, Cash and Targett had barely any touches in the penalty area, they didn't win the ball as high up the pitch and this suggests that Gerrard can be pragmatic as well as cavalier. Furthermore if you look at the PPDA under Gerrard and compare it to Smith, Smith's side pressed with more intensity but Gerrard's team is doing it more smartly whilst conserving energy.

This means there will not be as many spaces for Salah and Mane to exploit in transitional situations. On paper, Salah against Young is a mismatch but if there is no space to work with, Salah can be kept quiet - well long enough for Villa to strike first. On the other flank, Cash has the athleticism and agility to match up to Mane and that will be a tough match up to call.




Nakamba drops very deep to facilitate Villa's progression from the defensive third. If he is taken out of the game, McGinn or Douglas Luiz can also drop into the half spaces to out number the pressing players of the opposition. Liverpool's approach will be to cut off passes going down Villa's right side and force most of their build up down the left where Mings and Young do not really scream elite level ability in possession.

To compensate for the lack of ability down that flank, Villa tend to encourage Watkins to drift to the left and hit any long balls made under pressure to his region, hoping he can make it stick. We will touch upon this further in transitional situations but it is an option Villa are not afraid to utilise if it helps to minimise errors and allow them to get into enemy territory.



Villa's only real threat seems to be transitional in this game as it is hard to envisage them being able to push Liverpool back and establish sustained residence in Liverpool's third. Against City, Watkins was a menace when he drifted out to the left and this is exactly where he tormented Joe Gomez in that infamous 7-2.

It will be interesting to see how Klopp chooses to partner Van Dijk in this fixture. On paper Kounate's pace seems a good fit to take on Watkins but Gomez also has tremendous pace and he was destroyed by Watkins. Matip is a safer pair of hands and could use his physicality to outmuscle Watkins whose hold up play can at times be suspect.



A hall-mark game for Gerrard so early into his managerial tenure. A positive result here sets out a fairytale path to the top job at Anfield sooner rather than later but in truth he has nothing to lose here, Villa are underdogs on a great run of form and have no climbed to 10th with eyes now set on Europe - a far cry to a month back when they were staring at the drop.

The pressure is all on Liverpool who are being fancied by some quarters as the preeminent threat to City's hopes of defending the league title. They seemed to have turned a corner with a devil may care attitude after the loss at West Ham but has the success finally caught up with them? The emotions of facing a team managed by hero Steven Gerrard will be draining and confusing.... it will be interesting to see how the Liverpool fans handle it.

Prediction… The bookies have Liverpool as favourites but in truth this result could be anything. Gerrard's side are in a great moment, as are Klopp's and that usually means a game which will fail to live up to the hype as it will be closely contested.

Upon closer inspection if forced to give the edge to a side, it will have to be Liverpool. They are at home, they are close to full strength and they have more to play for. Villa will miss Bailey who gives the side an under appreciated X Factor and their weakest area correlates with Liverpool's greatest area of strength.



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