Aston Villa vs Liverpool: Preview

Since the 2011/12 season, Aston Villa and Liverpool have had a slightly peculiar relationship; the Reds have won three out of three at Villa Park, whilst the Villans have left Anfield with two wins and two draws from their four visits. Does the two teams’ form this season suggest that this run will continue with a Liverpool win on Saturday?

The first thing to note is that Villa’s home record under Paul Lambert is appalling, and that goes for his whole tenure and not just this season. Of the fifteen teams who have been consistently in the Premier League since August 2012, Liverpool’s opponents this weekend are in the worst two for (deep breath) points, wins, losses, clean sheets, failing to score, and goals both for and against.

If we focus on their home record against teams in the top half (where the table placings are based on the end of the season for completed seasons, or the current table for 2014/15), it is a similarly uninspiring picture. Paul Lambert has guided Villa to just four wins from twenty-six matches, with only one in the last fifteen months (a 1-0 victory over Chelsea last March). It’s not as if entertainment has been high on the agenda at Villa Park this season either. The ground has only seen 1.8 goals per game on average, and no ground has seen so few since cross-city rivals Birmingham City saw just 1.68 goals per game at St Andrews in 2009/10.

By contrast, Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool are the Premier League’s great entertainers away from home. Since August 2012, Liverpool are the only team to score one hundred league goals on the road, and due to their shaky defence, their away games have featured a total of 3.65 goals per match, when no other side averages more than 3.08. The Reds also have a good record away to teams in the bottom half of the table, as I discussed (and Liverpool later displayed) in my Sunderland preview, Rodgers’ men have won sixteen and lost only four of their twenty-five matches, and only Arsenal, United and Chelsea have a better record in such games over this period.

In terms of opposition attacking threat, I often inevitably focus on set-pieces in these previews, but this week the two teams have identical records; three goals scored and six conceded from dead ball situations (excluding penalties). Considering their reputation for counter attacking, it’s interesting that Villa have yet to score a goal this way in 2014/15, though their overall paucity of goals no doubt explains that to some extent. For the record, Liverpool have scored two on the counter this season, which is a tally only Manchester City (with five) can better.

The key to a Liverpool victory may well be ensuring that their hosts do not score the opening goal. Despite their poor form this season, Villa have only lost once when scoring first this season, and but for a 90th minute Tottenham goal, they would be unbeaten. The Reds won’t need reminding how well Villa can defend a lead either, as that’s exactly what they did after scoring an early goal at Anfield in September. Lambert’s team only had three shots after they scored in the ninth minute, and they logged their lowest possession figure of the season (just 25%, which is the lowest by any team against Rodgers’ Reds in the Premier League) as Liverpool had lots of the ball but few ideas as to how to break them down.

The Villans have only won one of the nine games when they have conceded first (losing eight) and in that match (a 2-1 win against Leicester City) they were only behind for four minutes and equalised in the seventeenth minute. The Reds’ record this season is very similar to Villa’s (only two defeats from twelve when scoring first, and one win from six when conceding the game’s first goal) so whichever team breaks the deadlock on Saturday will definitely fancy their chances.

Looking at key stages of the match, it seems clear that Villa have struggled after their half time oranges this season. Paul Lambert’s team have both scored and conceded nine goals in the opening forty-five minutes of league games in 2014/15, but the balance goes to fifteen to two in their opponents’ favour after half time. The Villans have only scored one goal after the 50th minute this season, and only one second half goal since the opening day. Liverpool’s figures are far more balanced, so it’s harder to predict how they might do in each half; they have sixteen goals scored and ten conceded in the first half, and sixteen scored and eighteen conceded in the second forty-five.

One person who might prevent Liverpool from taking all three points home is Brad Guzan, as he has been performing very well this season. At the time of writing Guzan has the third best save percentage in the Premier League, and unlike Costel Pantilimon (who I correctly predicted would struggle with Opta-defined big chances against the Reds), Villa’s American ‘keeper has been strong with both the regular quality shots and the sitters.

As Aston Villa are the only team in the Premier League without a win in their last six games, and score so few goals, you’d have to expect a Liverpool victory, particularly with a refreshed Raheem Sterling likely to return to the starting line up. But if the home side score first, it could easily turn into a very long afternoon for the Reds.

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