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Preview: Sturridge set to start as Liverpool, Villa meet at Anfield

It’s a big chance for Aston Villa to get points at Anfield once more — but will the Claret and Blues rise to the occasion?

Jordan Ayew needs to play this week for Villa.
Jordan Ayew needs to play this week for Villa.
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Tuesday’s 1-0 win over crosstown rival Birmingham City hopefully did a lot to boost confidence in the Aston Villa camp. We saw Tim Sherwood make the right halftime substitutions, and Villa showed their superiority in the second 45 to advance to the final 16 of the Capital One Cup.

Now it’s a trip to Anfield, a place where Villa have enjoyed considerable success in recent years — can they do it again and perhaps condemn Reds manager Brendan Rodgers to the sack?

What to know about Villa

Please, Tim, please just start Jordan Ayew and Jack Grealish tomorrow. Please.

I mentioned the halftime substitutions earlier, but those two coming on after 45 completely changed the game — Ayew looked like a boss, playing with a high level of confidence, and Grealish’s ability to draw the fullback in made it a lot easier for Jordan Amavi to put in the winning cross for the Claret and Blues.

If Jordan Ayew turns into the player he could be, it makes the team so much better. Jordan Veretout too, who had a really solid showing midweek in the Cup.

There’s been a lot of talk about Villa perhaps shifting to a three-man back line, with Amavi and Leandro Bacuna shifting to wing-backs, and this would perhaps seem to be a game in which that could make some sense; Sherwood’s side likely won’t see an overly high proportion of the ball.

Adama Traoré and Idrissa Gana Gueye are looking like they could be fit for Saturday’s clash, though given Sherwood’s past decisions with respect to returns from injury, I’d be surprised if either find their way to the starting XI.

And despite his goal Tuesday, I’m still not sure Rudy Gestede is a great answer for Villa, especially in a game like this — he’s good in the air, and subpar everywhere else.

The manager also noted Gabby Agbonlahor could return from injury to play a part without really training since going off Tuesday which, just… no, Tim. Don’t. Villa are a better side without a healthy Gabby on the pitch, let alone an unfit one.

What to know about Liverpool

They aren’t playing particularly great football. Since winning their first two games of the season in bore 1-0 triumphs, Liverpool haven’t won in six consecutive fixtures across all competitions. In eight competitive fixtures this year, they’ve scored just six goals, and only four of those are in the league.

But the return of Daniel Sturridge to the Liverpool XI should cancel out Christian Benteke’s absence, and Danny Ings, who seems to have found his stride a bit, and Philippe Coutinho should pose problems for the Villa defense. They’ll have to be alert to those threats.

I’d be willing to put good money on Sturridge scoring tomorrow on his return to the Anfield pitch, because that’s the type of thing that always happens to Villa, and to this point, Coutinho has been one of the lone bright spots in a frustrating season on Merseyside. (Never mind the fact expectations are far too high for the resources that club has, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I mentioned Brendan Rodgers’ job earlier, but it seems to be very much on the line at this stage of the season. If he fails to beat Villa or Everton in either of Liverpool’s next two Premier League fixtures, I’d be very surprised if he survived the international break that comes after it.

Getting a manager the sack is always fun, so it’d be nice to see Villa do it again.

The odds

Bovada: Liverpool 1/2, Villa 5/1, Draw 63/20
Paddy Power: Liverpool 4/9, Villa 13/2, Draw 17/5
SkyBet: Liverpool 1/2, Villa 5/1, Draw 10/3

The prediction

Guys, those are some really good odds on Villa, especially given the Claret and Blues’ recent form at Anfield.

At the end of the day though, this feels like the same story we’ve heard so often with the bigger clubs — they aren’t playing well, so they’re vulnerable and we go in with confidence, only to get beat anyway because that’s how football works.

Sturridge and Coutinho score for the Reds to beat Villa, who’ll get a goal from Carles Gil.

Liverpool 2, Villa 1