Both Liverpool’s Brendan Rodgers and Aston Villa’s Paul Lambert arrived at new clubs with high expectations at the start of this season, and their upcoming clash will influence whether or not these managers can accomplish their goals.
Rodgers and the Reds had a slow start but have been in fine form in the latter part of their campaign. The team sits seventh in the table heading into this weekend and will be furiously fighting for a spot in Europe next season.
Lambert and Villa have had to reform their expectations since the beginning of the year, as the team’s only focus now is survival. The Lions are three points above the relegation zone.
There is plenty on the line in this fixture, and here is everything you need to know about the match.
Where: Villa Park, Birmingham, England
When: Sunday, March 31, 8:30 a.m. ET
Watch: Fox Soccer Channel
What They’re Saying
ESPN’s Kevin Hughes notes that Aston Villa will be constantly worried about Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, who, despite his often criticized antics, has become the most feared striker in the Premier League:
His behaviour has come under scrutiny again this week after punching out at Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara while on international duty for Uruguay. Not endearing, and not befitting a player of such class.
But as a footballer, a goal-scorer, Suarez has had no equal in the league this season. His quality has never been in doubt, but this is the season when everything has clicked into place. Whereas once the Uruguayan could be seen as too wasteful in front of goal, sometimes failing to add the finishing touch to exquisite approach play, he has become clinical and ruthless over the last few months.
Liverpool Player to Watch: Luis Suarez
No surprises here. The Uruguayan has continued his ascension this season and now belongs in the upper echelon of strikers anywhere in the world.
His 22 league goals are the most in the Premiership, and he has been truly spectacular in front of goal this year. As Hughes notes, he is frighteningly deadly when he gets the ball in the penalty area.
Villa have conceded more goals than any team in the EPL other than Reading, and the team’s back line is prone to lapses.
If Lambert’s side cannot find a way to stay tight at the back, Suarez will be adding to his impressive goal total in this game.
Aston Villa Player to Watch: Brad Guzan
While Villa will be hoping to get a better-than-usual performance from its defense, it is inevitable that Liverpool will get quality opportunities on goal.
Fortunately for the Lions, Guzan has been in incredible form recently. He was producing incredible saves in goal before the international break, then delivered two extremely impressive performances for the United States during World Cup Qualifiers.
Aston Villa will need to limit the Reds’ chances on goal, but when they do get a shot on frame, Guzan will need to deny it.
Without another fantastic outing from Guzan, Villa will have little chance to earn points in this game.
Key Matchup: Aston Villa Centre-Backs vs. Luis Suarez
This match will come down entirely to how the Aston Villa defense deals with Suarez. With one of the leakiest back lines in the Premiership going against the league’s top goalscorer, there is reason to doubt the Lions.
But if they can keep him from scoring or setting up multiple goals, there is enough talent on the other end to help the team earn at least a draw.
Christian Benteke is certainly capable of producing goals, and it would be no surprise to see his name on the scoresheet at the end of this match.
But if Suarez has a spectacular performance, the Reds will cruise to a victory.
Prediction: Aston Villa 2, Liverpool 2
Villa’s defense will not be able to keep Liverpool’s attack from scoring multiple times in this match.
However, the threat of relegation will be a powerful motivating factor for Lambert’s players, and they will be able to get forward and test Liverpool’s back line.
There is plenty of talent in Villa’s attack, and the supporters will be fiercely cheering their team on. Expect an incredible atmosphere in this match.
With so much on the line, an inconsistent Aston Villa side will have one of its better matches and this will produce a high-scoring draw.