Liverpool v Aston Villa: No repeat of mayhem and madness

Aston Villa pulverised Liverpool 7-2 in Birmingham, but Kevin Hatchard thinks Saturday's clash at Anfield will be a more sterile affair...

Madrid failure exposed home truths

The temptation to explain Liverpool's poor campaign as being down to their defensive injury crisis is strong, but that wouldn't tell the whole story. While no-one at the start of the season would've anticipated the Reds fielding Nat Phillips alongside Ozan Kabak in central defence in a Champions League quarter-final, it's also true that the front three are showing serious signs of wear and tear after season upon season of top-level competition.

You can't reach Champions League finals in back-to-back seasons and finish in the top two of the Premier League twice without putting a hefty number of miles on the clock.

Players like Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino look well below their best, and while Mohamed Salah is still scoring goals, there are games where the Egyptian isn't quite hitting the right notes. Diogo Jota perhaps looks the freshest and sharpest Liverpool forward right now, but even he is working his way back to his best after missing a chunk of the season with injury.

Liverpool's 3-1 reverse at Real Madrid on Tuesday was down to defensive sloppiness, but also a lack of inspiration with the ball.

A Real defence that was without both Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane was there to be exploited, but by Jürgen Klopp's own admission, Liverpool didn't play incisive football and made life far too easy for the Spanish champions.

Of course, Liverpool's history shows that a comeback is possible, although the absence of fans at Anfield will make an already tall mountain even more imposing. Either way, Liverpool must improve their domestic form to try and qualify for next year's UCL through their league position. Wins at Wolves and Arsenal have got them back in the race for fourth spot, and they are level with Chelsea on 2.12 in the Premier League Top 4 Finish market.

Skipper Jordan Henderson is still sidelined, as are Joe Gomez, Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip. Naby Keita was taken off before half-time in Madrid, but that was a tactical switch. Curtis Jones and Xherdan Shaqiri are pushing for recalls, and Klopp may rest players ahead of the second leg against Real.

Villa can still reach for the stars

Despite their recent slump in the absence of the talismanic Jack Grealish, Aston Villa have completed their primary task of staying in the Premier League, and anything else is now a bonus. Villa have stuck by manager Dean Smith, and the passionate and likeable coach has repaid that faith. The recent win over Fulham leaves Villa on 44 points, and a victory at Anfield would take them to within two points of seventh-placed Liverpool with a game in hand.

Villa's away form has been a mixed bag of late. They somehow contrived to lose 1-0 at rock-bottom Sheffield United, who played the last 33 minutes with ten men. On the other side of the coin, Aston's finest have won 1-0 at Leeds and 1-0 at Southampton in 2021, and this term they have won at Leicester City and Arsenal.

With just 31 goals leaked in 29 league games, Villa have one of the best defensive records in the division, and they have kept 14 clean sheets.

Only Chelsea and Manchester City have managed more shutouts. They haven't conceded multiple goals in a top-flight away game since January.

Jack Grealish isn't expected to return to the Villa squad for this one, with confusion surrounding his projected return from injury. Trezeguet was an outstanding substitute in the comeback win over Fulham, and the Egyptian could start.

Gritty Villa can frustrate Reds

Villa will have plenty of confidence after thrashing Liverpool 7-2 in what was an extraordinary reverse fixture, and they will take great solace from the Reds' appalling recent home record. Klopp's men have lost their last six league matches at home, and they haven't won a PL game at Anfield in 2021.

We can give Villa a goal start here on the Asian Handicap at 1.96, which means we win if Villa win or draw, and the only way we lose is if the visitors lose by two goals or more.

Don't expect another goalfest

The 7-2 hammering Liverpool suffered at Villa Park was a freak result, and I wouldn't expect anything like that here. I'm amazed to see No in the Both Teams To Score market trading at 2.28 here - that bet has paid out in Liverpool's last six Premier League matches, and half of their 30 top-flight games overall. As for Villa, 18 of their 29 PL games have seen this wager be successful.

Jota can use his head

Diogo Jota has been impressive for club and country recently. The Portuguese international has scored six goals in his last five appearances. The former Wolves forward is 5/4 to score at any time, and 4/1 to have a headed shot on target. It's worth bearing in mind that Jota scored with his head against Arsenal, and netted a header on international duty with Portugal.

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