This year’s festive season sees another tough spell of games for Aston Villa, with trips to Liverpool and Chelsea followed by a home game against Tottenham Hotspur all before Boxing Day. While our form has picked up lately, in terms of points we’re still in the s**t and could really do with picking up a few unexpected points from this run of three games.
Unbeaten in the last five games, coincidentally enough since a 5-0 thrashing against Manchester City almost a month ago, Villa’s form is definitely on the up and despite Liverpool having a stop-start season, they will provide a much sterner test than any of the previous opponents in this run. Luis Suarez might well have a low shooting accuracy percentage, but he also has 10 league goals from 15 games, an average only bettered this season by Robin van Persie and Michu which should say it all.
His ball-skills and clever runs are a far cry from the battering ram approach that Stoke City deployed in Villa’s last league game. Three clean sheets in the last four league games for the Midlands side is impressive, especially considering the absence of captain Ron Vlaar, but coming against the likes of Reading, Stoke City and Arsenal - I’d be far more impressed with a clean sheet at Anfield.
The truth is that we may not need a clean sheet to win if we have finally found our scoring boots. Having scored four goals on Tuesday at Carrow Road, you’d hope we have turned a corner, but replicating our cup goal-scoring heroics in the league is proving to be a hard task to get right. An amazing statistic is that Villa have scored more goals in four Capital One Cup games (13) than they have in sixteen league games (12) - if Paul Lambert can figure out why we can score so easily in cup competitions and apply that to league games, then our season will really take off.
Which formation to use could also cause Paul Lambert a problem. So far this season we have seen the new Scottish manager choose 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and against Norwich City mid-week we saw a 5-3-2 which worked fantastically. Each has had certain levels of success and failure so I’d think that choosing the right one for the right opponent is essential. With each different formation comes the need for different players in different roles, but you’d have to expect that the likes of Christian Benteke, Matthew Lowton and Ashley Westwood are a shoe-in considering the massive impact they have had on Villa’s season so far.
Then there’s the impressive performances in the Capital One Cup quarter-final by Brett Holman who scored a superb half-volley and ran the show for large parts; Andreas Weimann who replaced the injured Darren Bent and got himself a brace of goals; Fabian Delph who had recently lost his starting place in midfield but was up there with the best performers. It’s a selection problem, but the kind you’d imagine managers like to have.
Despite both teams desire to play stylish, attacking football, I can see this being a close encounter settled by the odd goal. Possession rules all in Brendan Rodgers’ philosophy and I think in order to stop Liverpool dominating the game, we have to take a cautious approach or we risk gifting possession all too easily to a team that can make you look foolish if you do so.
I’m expecting Benteke to batter and bruise the two - I assume - unlucky centre-backs put in his path, Westwood to pass the socks off the whole Liverpool team and Holman to be the creative link-up player we have long desired. Is that too much to ask for? If it’s not… throw in three points.