This time last year both Liverpool and Aston Villa were challenging for a place in the Champions League. This season, after much turmoil at both clubs off the pitch, the two teams are struggling to stay in the top half.
Both sides have had their fair share of problems, the start of the season saw Liverpool with a new manager, Roy Hodgson, and facing potential financial meltdown as Tom Hicks and George Gillett held on until the twelfth hour before finally being ousted from the club by New England Sports Ventures, now the Fenway Sports Group.
Whilst Liverpool may have replaced their manager in the summer, Aston Villa were forced to start a search for a new boss in early August, when Martin O’Neil walked away from the club less than a week before their opening game of the Premier League season against West Ham United at Villa Park.
Arguably as a result of this disruption both clubs find themselves well off where they want to be in the league, with Liverpool sat in tenth – seven points away from fourth place Manchester City and just five points above the relegation zone – and Aston Villa two points behind them in fifteenth.
So whilst Gerard Houllier can expect a warm welcome from the Anfield faithful, who are forever grateful to the Frenchman for bringing the club a host of trophies during his time in charge, he’ll have to accept that’s as far as Anfield’s hospitality will extend to the visiting Villa team – this is a Liverpool side in desperate need of three points to keep their European dream alive.
Liverpool’s task has been made harder by a host of injuries to important players. Captain Steven Gerrard is unlikely to be fit for the game, whilst vice-captain Jamie Carragher will certainly miss the game following picking up a shoulder injury against Spurs which will likely rule him out until the latter part of the season.
However Villa are also missing key players, with Ashley Young being suspended for the Anfield tie and the likes of Stiliyan Petrov, Nigel Reo-Coker and Steve Sidwell all set to miss the game through injury.
Both sides have been predictably unpredictable under their current managers – which makes this game incredibly hard to call. One thing is for certain though, if one team comes out on top then they will have walked away with a significant boost to their European hopes, whilst the other will be left wondering exactly where their season is heading.
(Photo provided by Gordon Flood)