Given the mood surrounding Aston Villa fans of late, it's easy to forget that they currently reside 11th in the table, five points above the relegation zone and seemingly much better prepared to whether the storm than many of the teams below. That's not to say some of the pessimism isn't warranted; since the beginning of December, Villa have just 7 points from 8 Premier League game and have been playing some pretty dire football over that span. If not for a surprisingly strong start Villa's mid-table standing wouldn't likely be as secure as it is-and given the relatively tight quarters of the league's bottom half, it's not all that secure in the first place-and the encouraging run to start the campaign seems a distant memory.
Still, those early season games counted in the standings, and it's the clubs below Villa that have the catching up to do. Several of them could conceivably do just that this weekend, and come next week Villa could be as low as 15th and within striking distance of the bottom three. That's an unlikely scenario, however, and it eases some of the pressure where this game is concerned. Aston Villa won't be expected to take anything from Anfield, and it's not crucial that they do so. Looking ahead, there's a beatable West Brom team up next and several winnable games on tap in February. As unpleasant as the past few months have been, Villa's fate remains in their own hands; if they can manage to perform against the teams around them as should be expected, this will be the most comfortable finish in a few years.
That is of course far easier to say than it is to believe it's going to happen. And while some of that doubt is certainly the result of defeatism borne of the past few seasons' struggles, it's also completely reasonable given the way the team has been playing of late. That's why the final half hour against Arsenal was so exciting; it was a reminder that this team is capable of playing exciting football, and while there was never any doubt that Arsenal were the superior side, Villa legitimately made them sweat until the final whistle. Is it reasonable to expect Villa to play the way they did for the final half hour on Monday for all 90 minutes every game? Of course not. But it's entirely reasonable to expect them to show it sometime before the game's been lost.
As far as Liverpool goes, there's not much to say; they're a far better side than Villa, with arguably the best player in the Premier League at their disposal and a very good chance to return to the Champions League. Going to Anfield and expecting even a point is silly and unrealistic. But good heavens, it's fair to expect it to at the very least be entertaining. We know this side can play football that's fun to watch. We saw them do it at the end of last season and the beginning of this one. If anything, they should be playing better football than they were this time last year. And in games like this, where it's clear the opposition will be pushing forward and shrinking the field, there's no excuse not to go back to doing what we all know this team does best.
In that sense, this isn't so much a preview as it is a plea; to Paul Lambert and especially to the players. Please show that you recognize that the football this side has been playing these past few months is not only horrible to watch, it's not conducive to winning. That stuff you did at the end of the Arsenal game? More of that. More pressing, more exploiting space, more quick transitions. Less mindless hoofing. The odds of taking a point from Liverpool are pretty slim no matter what; at least make me remember that I'm not supposed to hate you.