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Aston Villa vs Liverpool – Can The Reds Find Their Scoring Touch?

Barclays Premier League

Aston Villa v Liverpool

Villa Park

18th December 2011, KO 14:05

Much has changed since Liverpool’s last visit to Villa Park – Stewart Downing scored the winner (and his last league goal to date) in what proved to be his final game for the Villans, Gary McAllister was in charge at Villa in the absence of Gerard Houllier, and Liverpool were left to rue not being in Europe for only the fourth time since 1964.

Heavy investment isn’t always the answer, certainly not a sustainable one, but a vast refurbishment at the Kop over the summer has seen the Reds seven points better off at this stage than last season, but what must irk Liverpool fans is that it could be so much better.

Astoundingly, Sunday’s visitors have struck the woodwork 15 times this season. According to OptaJoe statistics, had these 15 attempts turned into goals, Liverpool would be currently third.

Manager Kenny Dalglish must be surely be concerned that the likes of Luis Suarez, Craig Bellamy, Dirk Kuyt et al have mustered a paltry 18 goals so far this campaign, Stoke City are the only other team in the top half to have scored less.

Furthermore, due to the powers that be at the FA, Suarez will now have to sweat until at least Tuesday when the Independent Regulatory Commission is expected to have a verdict on his alleged racial abuse of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.

However, peering beyond the Suarez-shaped cloud that is currently engulfing Anfield, Liverpool have the best defensive record in the Premier League, and have taken more points off Villa than any other Premier League side.   

In contrast, Aston Villa have enjoyed rare predictability and mid-table comfort thus far, but manager Alex McLeish has yet to win over the Villa Park faithful, and has been accused of being too negative in his team selection and tactics.

What relief it must have been then, to see the starting of wingers Charles N’Zogbia and Marc Albrighton rewarded with a vital 2-1 win at strugglers Bolton last Saturday.

While the omens don’t look good for McLeish’s men heading into Sunday’s fixture, it must be noted that Dalglish has never won as Liverpool manager against Aston Villa at Villa Park.

But what must be sobering for the Midlanders is, despite their relatively comfortable start to the season (with the exception of Stoke) have managed the lowest shots, the least amount of shots on target, and lowest successful passing ratio in all of the Premier League – useful weaponry for those still gunning for McLeish in the furore that surrounded his appointment.

Heading into the match, Villa will be without Gabriel Agbonlahor after he picked up his fifth booking of the season, as well as Shay Given, who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Liverpool will thank their lucky stars Uruguayan maestro Suarez remains available – FA permitting – while Jay Spearing will serve the second match of his three-game suspension.

Key man: Luis Suarez (Liverpool) – Suarez was inspirational in Liverpool’s 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers last weekend – a scoreline which ultimately flattered the West London side, but highlighted Liverpool’s current profligacy.

But Sunday will be all about the little Uruguayan again, with Liverpool currently bereft of creativity without their talisman. He holds the key to link up play, bring the best out of the likes of Carroll and Kuyt, as well as possessing the sheer quality to win a match all on his own.

Prediction: Aston Villa 0 Liverpool 2

With Liverpool’s defensive record as good as it is at the moment, and Villa missing arguably their best performer so far this season in Agbonlahor, the hosts will struggle to score. With Suarez and co at the helm, it would take a brave man to bet against the Reds not coming out on top on Sunday.

Alex Smith @AlexSmith190990

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