Had the season gone well, I'd likely spend a bit talking about how it's hard to believe how fast it's all gone by, how sad it is that we've reached the end, how much we'll miss watching Aston Villa every weekend. But none of those things are true, at least right now; I'm sure that in a couple of weeks we'll all miss the games, but for now it will just be a relief for it to be over. This season has been a lot of things and not many of them have been all that pleasant. Still, it'd be quite lovely to go out on a high note, no?
Robert talked a bit about what a win in this game would mean yesterday, and he's got it pretty much spot on; it might not mean all that much in any tangible sense (to us at least) but a top-half finish is possible with three points, and that would feel pretty fantastic when all is said in done. Of course safety is what matters most and Aston Villa have already achieved that, but you always want your team to do as well as they can and it's certainly a nice thing to end the season on a high note. And if Villa can take six or even four points from their final two games against Arsenal and Liverpool, I'd say would qualify.
It's another thing to actually do it though, and Liverpool clearly presents some difficult matchup issues. If Darren Bent was the best buy of the January transfer window (and it seems fair to say that he was, at least in terms of strikers) then Luis Suarez must be a close second. Suarez doesn't have Bent's gaudy goals-scored numbers, but he's much more of a complete forward and, to be frank, a tricky little bastard. If there's one single type of player that has consistently given Villa trouble so far this seasons it's those of the clever variety. Suarez has typically been paired with Dirk Kuyt with Andy Carroll making occasional starts, but with Liverpool's hopes of European football on the line Kuyt will likely get the nod. Kuyt and Suarez have formed an excellent partnership, each playing to the strengths of the other, and the occasionally maligned Dutch international is having something of a renaissance at the age of 30. Kuyt has also spent a fair amount of time at his somewhat more comfortable spot on the wing since the arrival of Suarez and Carroll, and should the Reds wish to come at Villa with a bit more attacking intent it would be little surprise to see him there.
Liverpool have remained a dangerous attacking team even in the absence of Steven Gerrard, lost in March to season-ending groin surgery. Maxi Rodriguez is as dangerous as ever on the left and should Kuyt get the nod up top we'll likely see Raul Meireles on the right. That's a potent attack no matter which way you look at it, and because Liverpool still do have something to play for (and need a win in order to achieve it) it's reasonable to expect them to come at Villa with both barrels. That's something of a scary thought when you consider Villa's proclivity towards leaking goals, but it's worth noting that the back line has looked far, far better in recent weeks and Villa haven't allowed more than two goals since their rather odd 3-2 loss to Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok on the 5th of March. That's not exactly high praise, but the point is that it's been a bit since we saw a truly shambolic performance from the defense. Richard Dunne and James Collins are not a pairing that I hope to see return next year; on their own they're both quality players but they're not especially well suited to the style of play favored by Gerard Houllier and they have many of the same weaknesses. With that said, they haven't been a disaster for quite some time (and at least some of that is down the Luke Young slotting in well at left back and Kyle Walker showing a great deal of improvement on the defensive side of things at right back) and while some concern is reasonable, expectations of an absolute massacre are likely unfounded.
There's also the fact that Aston Villa are still a very dangerous team on the counter attack. Liverpool are a decent defensive club but they're far from elite, and they've shown a tendency to allow themselves to be burned when pushing forward with a bit too much eagerness. If there's a blueprint for success in this game it's likely to be based on the victories over Manchester City and Arsenal; come out swinging, settle in quickly, pick your spots and defend like mad. Villa are a tough team to score against when the back line is sitting deep, and with the speed of Bent, Young and (possibly) Agbonlahor they can turn things around very quickly. It's not exactly great for your heart, but it's shown itself to be effective. Quick strikes, stretches of quality possession and steady defending. Not so hard is it?
As strange as it sounds, I'm probably looking more forward to this game than any of the season save for West Ham to open the year. There's nothing to lose and not a great deal to gain, but Liverpool are a beatable big name and this promises to be a fun one, at least for a few minutes. I'm resigned to not seeing more than one or two youngsters in the XI, but I doubt Gary McAllister will be making these types of decisions next season and we wouldn't learn all that much from one game in any case, so I can't be assed to care all that much. I'm just looking forward to waking up early, making some breakfast, putting down an entire pot of coffee and watching my club play some football. As much as I've complained about this season, it's still just a game and it's meant to be fun. No matter what happens, enjoy this one. You'll miss it soon enough.