Liverpool v Aston Villa: Gerrard can deal with Anfield pressure

Liverpool legend Steve Gerrard faces his former club this weekend, and Kevin Hatchard believes his Aston Villa side can make an impact.

Milan win sent a clear message

Although criticism of Milan for their Champions League campaign has been reactionary and exaggerated given their lack of recent UCL experience as a squad, they were swatted aside in a game they needed a result in by a heavily rotated Liverpool side. Virgil van Dijk, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andy Robertson, Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson, Fabinho and Diogo Jota were all left out of the starting XI, and yet Liverpool still made it six wins out of six in the group stage. They are the first English side to record that achievement.

Liverpool have won their last six games in all competitions, and have won the last four at Anfield. They haven't lost a home game since March, and they have scored at least twice in nine of their last ten competitive matches at Anfield. In fact, they have scored at least twice in 11 of their last 12 Premier League outings, and with a dizzying 44 goals scored in just 15 PL games, they have the league's best attack by quite some distance. At the other end, they have leaked just 12 league goals.

Jürgen Klopp can bring back a host of fresh players, while Roberto Firmino, Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott are still sidelined by injury. Joe Gomez and Naby Keita are in the mix after their respective returns from injury.

Liverpool legend isn't stuck in the past

Much of football coverage is about the prevailing narrative, and as Steven Gerrard returns to his spiritual football home this weekend, there is an assumption that one day he'll be in the home dugout at Anfield. The Kop will once again sing the name of a man whose Herculean efforts in Istanbul, Cardiff and beyond left an indelible mark on Liverpool's history.

But although Gerrard's football heart is an LFC heart, he is a pragmatist, and it's entirely believable when he talks about living in the moment.

This isn't a man using Aston Villa as a stepping stone, this is a realist who knows that his reputation as one of the Premier League's great players won't protect him if he fails as a manager.

So far, Gerrard can't be accused of failure as a coach. He restored Rangers' reputation at home and abroad, he stopped Celtic winning ten league titles in a row, and he delivered a memorable unbeaten league campaign. In his early matches at Aston Villa, the hallmarks of his coaching can be seen: aggression, defensive structure, a clever use of set pieces.

Villa have won three of their four league matches, and the one they did lose was against the champions Manchester City. Now another stiff challenge awaits in the most familiar of surroundings.

Leon Bailey and Bertrand Traore are still injured, while left-back Matt Targett and young forward Jacob Ramsey have minor knocks. Trezeguet is pushing hard for a recall, but Gerrard must make a judgement on the Egyptian's fitness.

Liverpool to win, but it won't be easy

Gerrard's Villa haven't lost by more than a goal yet, and the club has only lost by more than two goals twice this season, against West Ham and Chelsea. If you think that Gerrard's more defensive setup can keep the game tight, you could give the visitors a two-goal start on the Asian Handicap at 1.84.

However, I'm going to back Villa to cause problems in a different way. You can back Liverpool to win and both teams to score on the Sportsbook at 2.4. Liverpool have leaked at least one goal in five of their last ten league matches, and in three of the last six top-flight games at Anfield. Villa have scored in all four of Gerrard's games in charge, and in 10 of their last 11 PL games overall.

Watkins to hit the target?

Steven Gerrard has been at pains to point out the excellent all-round work of Villa striker Ollie Watkins, who has found the net in recent games against Manchester City and Brighton. The England international is averaging 1.07 shots on target per 90 minutes, and he averages 2.23 shots per 90.

If we think that Villa might score here, then it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Watkins will have a shot on target with his favoured right foot, a possibility that's been priced at 5/4 in the Sportsbook's #OddsOnThat section.

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