There's really no better way to describe what took place at Villa Park on December 18th of 2011; that game was as bad as football gets. Both sides took plenty of shots, but few of them were more than even quarter-hearted and in the end Liverpool emerged with a 2-0 win of which no one remembers even a minute; if they tell you otherwise, they're lying. Plenty has changed since then, but not much of it is important. Villa remain marginally competent but in general mind-numblingly dull, while Liverpool are worryingly less than the sum of some pretty brilliant parts. The Reds are nominally chasing a spot in the Europa League but more realistically attempting to convince anyone that will listen that Kenny Dalglish is worthy of his post, while Villa are playing just to avoid relegation but in reality so dull that even that brand of excitement will likely be kept well out of reach.
This is, in other words, not really a game about which anyone can really be excited. The most interesting thing about this contest (from the claret and blue perspective, at least) will be the kind of lineup Villa put on the field; Darren Bent, Charles N'Zogbia, Andi Weimann, Ciaran Clark, Richard Dunne and Carlos Cuellar are all likely to be out on Saturday; does that mean Nathan Delfouneso will make an appearance against Liverpool? Possibly, although the health of the much-maligned striker is also very much in doubt. Will it be Gabby leading the line all by his lonesome? That seems the most likely scenario, which also means a midfield involving Marc Albrighton, Gary Gardner, Barry Bannan, Chris Herd and Stephen Ireland is a distinct possibility. Which is interesting, certainly, but also oh my goodness that is a tiny and inexperienced group of players.
There's also the issue of Villa's defense, which is likely to be comprised of Stephen Warnock, James Collins, Nathan Baker and Eric Lichaj. We've written a great deal about Warnock and his Warnock-isity, and James Collins is who he is; a steadfast warrior 95% of the time and a human Benny Hill film the remainder. Lichaj made a triumphant return to the senior squad against Chelsea, locking down his area in defense and contributing a goal and assist, but he remains a bit of an unproven quantity, a point of exposure until consistently proven otherwise. Nathan Baker had an absolute nightmare against the Blues, and a legitimate case could be made that he was responsible for two of Chelsea's four goals.
What Liverpool bring to the table is pretty clear; Steven Gerrard is, on his day, death to a team like Villa. Luis Suarez, as detestable a human being as he appears to be, is an absolute magician with a ball at his feet. Liverpool's defense is what Alex McLeish likely sees in his dreams. On the plus side, Stewart Downing is still exactly what we all thought he was when we giggled at the transfer fee offered by Liverpool. (Of course those giggles faded when we realized two-thirds of it weren't going to be re-invested in the squad, but I digress.)
So, long story short: Liverpool is a lot better than Villa, and they're worlds better than the Villa side they're likely to face on Saturday. But the Reds have been so uneven (and arguably mis-managed) this year that a sneaky point is far from out of the question. Ultimately though, this isn't going to be the game that helps define this season. If you're not heading to Villa Park, this is the kind of game you take in at a pub with a oiint of four in front of you and a Full English on order. It probably won't be all that great, but at least it's football, and these kids might show you something pretty special.