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Will Sterling's return mean an easy match for Liverpool against Villa?

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Ahead of tomorrow's Aston Villa match against Liverpool, Conor Dowley of The Liverpool Offside was kind enough to answer a few questions. We dove into injuries, recent form, and why Liverpool always seem to struggle against Villa. Here's what he had to say!

7500: The last two times Aston Villa and Liverpool have met, the biggest reason Villa have been able to keep things competitive was the poor play of Steven Gerard. I'm avoiding the retirement from LFC question here to go to a more relevant one for this Saturday: with Gerard possibly back, how does Rodgers best use him? (And yes, "on the bench" is an option.)

Conor Dowley: It probably will be on the bench, what with the first leg of the League Cup semifinal tie against Chelsea coming up on Tuesday. Rodgers will, hopefully, prefer to have his captain rested and fully fit, rather than risk pushing him back too soon. Even if he does play, though, Rodgers has been using him somewhat more responsibly in terms of role and positioning, which has helped tremendously. The real key has been playing Lucas Leiva as an actual defensive mid doing actual defensive things, rather than playing Steven "defense? what's that?" Gerrard as the deepest midfielder.

7500: LFC have found a nice run of form lately after struggling to begin the season. With Raheem Sterling back, do you think a challenge for the top four is possible?

CD: Hopefully so. The third-through-sixth range has been pretty fluid and breaking in to it shouldn't be too insanely difficult for Liverpool to pull off, provided that their current run of form holds up for awhile. The big key, even more than Raheem Sterling's recent rest, will be getting Daniel Sturridge healthy again and keeping him that way for more than three days; Liverpool have struggled badly at striker without him, and having his quality and consistency up top will be a massive lift for the entire squad.

7500: Beating Liverpool was probably the highlight of Aston Villa's season. Going over your results, it looks as if it may have been the low point of Liverpool's season. Do you have any idea why it is Liverpool seem to play down to Villa so often?

CD: Because Liverpool play down to pretty much all the low-table teams. It's been a theme and a curse since the days of Rafa Benitez. Even without that, Villa at their best are the perfect foil to how Liverpool usually play: organized defensively and effective on the counter. Of course, Villa haven't often been at their best this season, so maybe Liverpool will get fortunate and have an easy trip to Birmingham for once.

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Thanks to Conor for taking the time to chat with us, and if you want to read more about Liverpool you should absolutely check out The Liverpool Offside. It's not just one of the best LFC blogs around, it's one of the best football blogs, period.