A small, ever-fleeting, glimmer of hope. That's all Aston Villa have left. While I've been saying this team has been doomed to relegation for a few months now, it still hasn't been mathematically confirmed.
Villa gaffer Rémi Garde deserves a great deal of credit for this. Yes, his team got off to a slow start after he arrived at B6. However, a win last weekend against Norwich City means Villa are only four points away from climbing out of the basement of the Premier League. It's not much, and we will probably still go down, but it's a start. Even if Villa do go down, it would be nice to not be the worst.
However, to keep moving, Villa have to keep winning. Next up is Liverpool who aren't exactly the most intimidating side at the moment. And it's at Villa Park! One thing this game will feature is the return of Christian Benteke. For all of the finishing issues the Liverpool man is having, it's certain that his old club would take him back in a heartbeat. Especially with the current state of the Villa forward line.
Gabby Agbonlahor is the only senior striker available, with Libor Kozák and Rudy Gestede injured. This is the last game of Jordan Ayew's suspension too, so he'll be back to face Stoke City in a couple of weeks. The midfield will have to shoulder a large part of the attacking burden once again.
Carles Gil and Jordan Veretout are the two most attack-minded midfielders available to Garde, after Jack Grealish was injured this week in training. Scott Sinclair also could feature here.
Lately, Villa's defensive woes have dried up, with a consistent back four that's allowed just three goals in the last five Premier League matches. Jores Okore is a big reason for this, and you have to think that Mark Bunn has been able to organise the unit better than his predecessor Brad Guzan.
Jürgen Klopp's Reds have actually accumulated more points away from Anfield (18) than they've won at home (17), albeit in one more match. As previously mentioned, they've had issues at striker that are certainly partly responsible for Liverpool sitting in 9th at the moment, but their defensive record hasn't exactly been stalwart either. They've also had an injury crisis at centre back, so blame that if you must.
Benteke has scored 6, tied for most on the team with Roberto Firmino. While we all know perfectly well what the big Belgian is capable of, I'm more concerned with his Brazilian counterpart. Firmino's an elusive dribbler, and has better than average heading ability. He has more than ample pace to make Sunday's game a nightmare for Joleon Lescott.
If the Villa defence can hold Liverpool to one goal or fewer, expect to see the Claret and Blues come away with three points. Frustrating the Reds early is key. As long as Garde's men don't play like Sherwood's did in the fall --leaking a goal just a minute after scoring and lacking discipline overall-- there's a chance of a victory that keeps survival hopes alive. At least for a couple more weeks.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Simon Mignolet; Nathaniel Clyne, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sahko, Alberto Moreno; Jordan Henderson, Emre Can, Joe Allen; Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Adam Lallana.
Aston Villa (4-5-1): Mark Bunn; Micah Richards, Jores Okore, Joleon Lescott, Aly Cissokho; Leandro Bacuna, Jordan Veretout, Ashley Westwood, Idrissa Gana Gueye, Scott Sinclair; Gabby Agbonlahor.
Who would you go with if you were Garde? Let us know in the comments!