Following a confidence-boosting win in the League Cup over rivals Birmingham City, Aston Villa now face a tough task as they prepare to pay former hero Christian Benteke (although he will miss the match) and his new club Liverpool a visit this weekend.
Let's start with a few positives. Liverpool have failed to score more than one goal in any competitive fixture this season. Brendan Rodgers' team hasn't been in the best of form, and the crowd at Anfield is growing restless. They just edged Carlisle United in penalties on Wednesday in the cup, and that will have tired out their squad, even though their starting eleven wasn't chock full of first team players. Oh, and did I mention Benteke won't be playing? Sorry for being repetitive, it's a big deal that the best goal threat of a side that has only mustered six goals in eight matches is unavailable.
If Villa can open the scoring, that will really help to turn the fans against the Reds. Tim Sherwood's team must pick up right where they left off against the Blues on Tuesday. After a dull first half, the Claret and Blues really turned it on. Bossing possession was key, the 60 percent share of the ball led to 10 shots.
Unfortunately, it seems that Sherwood's men still can't put two halves of football together and play a complete match. A big reason for the second period success enjoyed by the Villans on Tuesday was the introduction of Jack Grealish and Jordan Ayew at halftime.
Ayew had his best game in a Villa shirt so far, and probably deserves to start against Liverpool. I'd bring Rudy Gestede off the bench, if the crossing game is still being played. With the Ghanaian up top, Grealish can start on the left flank, with Carles Gil pigeonholed into a starting spot on the right wing. Scott Sinclair may end up being the odd man out.
Playing a front three actually allows for a more cohesive defensive unit. Using three dedicated central midfielders, rather than two, should afford the backline the protection it needs. Plus, out of possession, the wingers can drop into wide midfield roles. Especially without Idrissa Gana Gueye, more bodies need to be committed to this area of the pitch. Stifling Liverpool centrally will only be a good thing.
One consistent performer has been Ashley Westwood, meaning he should start with Carlos Sánchez. Ciaran Clark actually started in the midfield against Birmingham before being shifted back to replace Joleon Lescott, who certainly looks 33 years old. Jordan Veretout deserves a chance to start in the Premier League, especially after a decent midweek performance.
Defensively, Sherwood has been reluctant to change things up. Therefore, I'll select the same four he will; Leandro Bacuna (although Alan Hutton started against WBA), Micah Richards, Ciaran Clark and Jordan Amavi. Fortunately for them, Philippe Coutinho had to play nearly an hour of football in the cup, and may be slightly fatigued. However, they may still have to deal with Daniel Sturridge, who started last week in Liverpool's 1-1 draw with Norwich City.
Relief comes in midfield, since Jordan Henderson won't be able to play after fracturing his metatarsal. He's been the best player Rodgers has had this season, and missing him is a big blow for the Reds. It also means we may see another former Villan; James Milner.
Simon Mignolet; Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Mamadou Sahko, Joe Gomez; Lucas Leiva, Emre Can, James Milner; Philippe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Roberto Firmino.
Aston Villa (4-3-3):
Brad Guzan; Leandro Bacuna, Micah Richards, Ciaran Clark, Jordan Amavi; Ashley Westwood, Carlos Sánchez, Jordan Veretout; Carles Gil, Jordan Ayew, Jack Grealish.
Who would you go with at striker if you were Sherwood? What about in midfield? Let us know in the comments!