Thursday, 19 May 2011
Aston Villa vs Liverpool - Tactical Preview
There are a few points of interest in this game. Gerard Houllier had his 'emotional homecoming' at Anfield in December of course, and although he sadly won't be present on Sunday, another ex-Liverpool favourite Gary McAllister will be in the Villa dugout. Also, it's no secret that Liverpool have been sniffing around Ashley Young and Stewart Downing for some time now, and a move to Anfield for one of both seems to be on the cards this Summer. The travelling fans in red will be hoping that Villa's two creative wingers save their best for next season however, as Liverpool continue their push for fifth place (which now relies on Tottenham failing to beat Birmingham City at White Hart Lane on Sunday).
At this stage of the season, it's always difficult to predict line-ups, but a win for Villa could theoretically take them as high as ninth-place (from their current 13th), so they're likely to put out their strongest possible team. A solid defensive performance and two good Darren Bent finishes won the points for Villa away at Arsenal at the weekend, so I suspect they'll stick with much the same line-up, with the exception, perhaps, of Fabian Delph who was playing only his second game of the season after a return from injury (and also might be a bit worse for wear: he said the Villa boys were planning to have "more than a few pints" to celebrate their Emirates victory). I suspect he'll be replaced by either Gabby Agbonlahor or, more likely, Marc Albrighton in a 4-2-3-1 (which often looks like a 4-4-1-1), but it's possible that Emile Heskey (who tends to feature in most home games) will regain his place upfront alongside Darren Bent. McAllister might also want to give Michael Bradley (in place of Reo-Coker or Stiliyan Petrov) one last run-out before his loan agreement expires, and Ciaran Clark has been agitating for a return to the first team.
Dalglish, on the other hand, may well name an unchanged team, despite having endured a surprise defeat to Tottenham in the last game. Raul Meireles has returned to training after the injury he suffered at Craven Cottage, but it seems likely that Maxi Rodriguez will retain his place on the left of midfield, and Dalglish will want to persist with his favoured Carroll/Suarez strike-partnership while they are both fit. There is a possibility that Fabio Aurelio will return from injury to take John Flanagan's starting place, and Spearing might be dropped in favour of the more creative Jonjo Shelvey, who has impressed in recent substitute performances. But, in all probability, the teams will line up like this:
The two team shapes are clearly quite similar, and in these situations games can become a little stodgy and stunted, so both sides will be relying on their expensive January signings to make the difference. Darren Bent has been caught offside more regularly than any other player this season, and he spends an awful lot of his time on the shoulder of the last defender. This paid dividends against Arsenal's poorly organised defence, as Bent was able to break their shoddy offside-trap for both of his goals (although the finish for his first goal was genuinely excellent). As such, you can bet that Dalglish and Clarke have been working on Liverpool's defensive line in training this week. Bent also relies on Villa's creative players to provide him with chances, so it seems likely that Lucas and Spearing will have been given instructions on how to deal with Ashley Young's intelligent play, especially if he is given the free role behind the striker, and Downing has been a creative force for Aston Villa too this season, so Liverpool's right-back (most likely Flanagan) will have to do a good job of stopping his crosses from deep.
From Liverpool's point of view, if they do keep the same team, certain aspects of their game will need to improve substantially from the Tottenham game - most significantly in terms of the transition between defence and attack, which was poor at Anfield on Sunday. If Aston Villa do a good job of stifling Suarez, as Dawson and Sandro managed to do with some success, then Liverpool might look stolid and one-dimensional. For this reason, another cameo appearance or even a starting place for Shelvey seems likely, as he is a player who can stretch and bisect otherwise sturdy defences with his smart passing play.
On the whole, a low-scoring draw seems a likely result, but Liverpool have recorded a few surprise thrashings in the last few weeks (away at Fulham, for example) so I wouldn't bet against a victorious end to the season for Dalglish's team.
Some leaked team news suggests that Johnson, Maxi and Carroll are all left out for Liverpool, with Aurelio and Meireles returning to the starting line-up, and that Jonjo Shelvey has a place in a 5-man midfield behind Luis Suarez. To me, this is excellent news, and should see us employing a shape similar to the one we used against Fulham. We lacked a player with Shelvey's creative abilities against Tottenham (until he came on, that is), and hopefully he'll be able to demonstrate to the Liverpool fans how effectively he can dictate play from the midfield. Here's a revised tactical lineup: