Three goals in three games is a worrying stat at first glance, but due to the improved backline, Aston Villa have picked up seven points so far, good enough for third place. It's easy enough to blame the meagre return on the strikers -- Gabby Agbonlahor, Andi Weimann and Darren Bent -- but it's not entirely their fault. Yes, some chances have been wasted, but other members of the team should contribute more to the final stage attacking play.
If Carlos Sánchez starts, Fabian Delph will be free to make more forward runs. Aly Cissohko has been a better influence going forward than many people thought he would be, myself included. His play on the left has given the team some width and ability to cross the ball. However, playing in crosses from wide areas might not be the most effective strategy without a target man like Christian Benteke or Libor Kozák in the box to get on the end of the ball. Without an aerial threat at striker, long balls pumped forward by keeper Brad Guzan aren't very useful.
Depending on what formation and personnel manager Paul Lambert decides to go with, the key player could vary. In a 4-2-3-1, the central attacker playing behind the striker is going to have to link the play and do well in transition in order to start counterattacks. Villa probably won't be seeing a ton of the ball against Liverpool, meaning this is a more important role than it was against Hull City. If Lambert doesn't make any changes, it will be Kieran Richardson, but Tom Cleverley could play here too.
Liverpool used the 4-2-3-1 most often last year, but the addition of Mario Balotelli gave them the option of using two more centrally deployed strikers than what we saw with Luis Suárez in the lineup, who drifts out to the flanks. In their most recent match, a 3-0 victory over Tottenham, they used the 4-<4>-2, with Raheem Sterling as the creator behind Balotelli and Daniel Sturridge. After picking up an injury on England duty, Sturridge is out and it will most likely mean a shift away from the diamond midfield, back to the 4-2-3-1, due to a lack of striking options.
No one doubts the quality that Brendan Rodgers' side has going forward, but they have been shaky at the back. Basically the opposite of Aston Villa right now, a lot of the game at Anfield could be played in the visitor's half. Even if Villa win the possession battle it may be insignificant, as Spurs had 60% of the ball in that loss on matchday three, so packing the middle of the park won't be Lambert's best option.
Villa captain Ron Vlaar faces a late fitness test, but I have included him in the projected Villa starting 11. If he isn't able to go, sub in Jores Okore for him at centre back.
Possible lineups: (both 4-2-3-1)
What would you go with if you were Paul Lambert? Let us know in the comments!
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