Monday 6th December 2010
Kick Off: 20:00
Gerard Houllier will make an emotional return to Liverpool in Monday night as he takes his Villa side to Anfield in desperate search of a win. The Frenchman will no doubt have had his eye on this fixture since moving to Villa and his ties with the club are just one of a number of potential reunions. Houllier’s No.2 Gary McAllister was brought to the club by the manager is a playing capacity and in a short stint with the club the Scotsman became a cult hero. Among the playing staff to have plied their trade in Merseyside include Brad Friedel, Stephen Warnock and Emile Heskey, though the striker is unlikely to feature through injury.
Villa have won just once in their last 9 league games and face a tough away trip to Liverpool to turn their fortunes around. Both clubs have had bitterly disappointing starts to the season and find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Roy Hodgson’s start to his Liverpool tenure was dreadful although a mini revival topped by a win against Chelsea saw them back in the top half for a brief spell. Since the victory over the champions Liverpool have won just one game in four after losing a 1-0 lead end defeated by Tottenham last time out 2-1, a feat which was also achieved by Villa earlier in the season. Houllier will be looking to build from the 3-1 victory at Anfield last season with a win taking them back to mid table and just 6 points behind Tottenham in fifth.
The injury news for the away side is slightly more promising in the long term though they may be depleted in further for Monday’s tie. Barry Bannan pulled up in the midweek cup defeat with a groin injury and is unlikely to feature. This should see Stephen Ireland handed a start and another opportunity to prove himself at Villa. Ashley Young is suspended for the tie after picking up a fifth caution of the season in Wednesday’s loss.
The likes of Marc Albrighton and Emile Heskey are close to a return with the former more likely to feature, if only from the bench. Heskey would have liked to return to fitness in time to face his old club but it may well be one game too soon for the target man. In positive news Gabby Agbonlahor made it through the 90 minutes against the Blues and looked sharp in a return to goal-scoring form. Nigel Reo-Coker is still a way off despite starting ball work this week while Stiliyan Petrov, Steve Sidwell and Fabian Delph remain long-term absentees in midfield.
A young Villa side which should see Hogg and Clark retain their place in the centre of midfield will be buoyed by the absence of the scouse influence of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. Captain marvel Gerrard was injured in England’s friendly with France while Carragher dislocated his shoulder against Tottenham last week. Fernando Torres snatched a late winner at Villa last term and is returning to form despite not being in the goals of late. Any pessimistic Villa fan will feel that this goal-scoring drought will come to an abrupt end against a Villa centre back pairing which is leaking goals of late. Collins and Dunne don’t look 100% fit with Carlos Cuellar returning to full fitness, back in contention for a start in a shaky back four. Another worrying return could be that of Joe Cole who is yet to find his feet for Hodgson’s side. Kuyt and Meireles are also likely return after being rested in the Europa League on Thursday night.
Villa’s away form has been dismal this term with only a late winner from Emile Heskey at rivals Wolves providing victory for the Villans on their travels this term. Injuries to key men for both sides should make this a tight game though Liverpool’s side should not be underestimated in the absence of Gerrard and Carragher. In reality a draw would be a good result though it isn’t really enough to get Villa out of what is now more of a crater than a mere rut!
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