It was always likely that Liverpool’s lack of defensive strength in depth would catch them out this season, and those chickens came home to roost in the 0-1 defeat to Southampton on Monday.
Jordan Henderson was picked as the most unlikely of centre backs in the absence of Joel Matip – to go with long-term injury absentees Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez, and his unfamiliarity in the role became acutely clear as he looked to deal with the intelligent movement of the Saints’ Danny Ings.
It was Ings who put Southampton ahead in the second minute from James Ward-Prowse’s free kick, and at times the hosts looked likely to extend their lead as the Reds were overrun in midfield.
There was a complete change of tact in the second half, with Liverpool on the offensive and the Saints all too happy to sit deep and repel attack after attack.
The Reds, with Thiago Alcantara dictating play from midfield, were in complete control but unable to break down their opponents’ dogged resistance, with the first shot on target from Jurgen Klopp’s men not coming until the 75th minute.
Yes, there were a couple of penalty shouts that looked like they should have been given, and Klopp was adamant on that front. “Sadio Mane should have had a penalty tonight, and there was the handball – I’ve no idea,” he said afterwards. “It’s not an excuse for the performance, but you can get a point if they are given.”
To be completely honest, that would have been harsh on Southampton, and it’s back to the drawing board for Klopp as some of the Premier League’s big guns begin to circle at the summit of the table.
For now though, there’s a brief respite from top flight action as it’s FA Cup third round weekend, with Liverpool making the trip to the West Midlands on Friday evening to take on an Aston Villa side who truly humbled them earlier in the campaign.
Liverpool Team News
It would be something of an understatement to suggest that Klopp hasn’t taken the domestic cups seriously in his time on Merseyside, and given the fragile nature of his squad at the moment we don’t expect that to change here.
Many of his leading stars will be given the night off against Villa, and we expect a pretty much fringe and youth player eleven to take to the field.
From back to front, Klopp will want to see more of Caoimhin Kelleher in goal, and the young Irishman is likely to get his chance behind a youthful back four containing Nat Phillips and Neco and Rhys Williams, with James Milner possibly asked to plug the gap at left back.
In midfield, the hope is that Thiago can feature once more as he works on his fitness, and he could be joined in midfield by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Curtis Jones.
In attack, Takumi Minamino may take on the ‘false nine’ role, with Divock Origi to his left and Xherdan Shaqiri to the right.
Aston Villa Form
It’s likely that Dean Smith will rotate his starting eleven too, although there will be a part of him that wants to try and continue with Aston Villa’s excellent start to the campaign.
The Villains sit a very happy eighth in the Premier League table with games in hand, and prior to defeat against Manchester United last time out they were on an unbeaten run of five, which included a win over local rivals Wolves and 3-0 victories over Crystal Palace and West Brom respectively.
The 7-2 victory over Liverpool earlier in the season remains present in the minds of many Villa fans, and how they would love a cup run to go with their excellence in the league.
Aston Villa vs Liverpool Betting Tips
It seems almost a certainty that this will be an unusual-looking Liverpool starting eleven, and that has been reflected by the bookies making the Reds a 5/4 shot to win this game – one of the few times that they have been backable at an odds-against price this term.
It has to be said, through gritted teeth, that Villa are excellent value at 23/10 here, and that lofty price enables punters to get on with their ‘cover bets’ too – Villa Draw No Bet at 6/4 looking the pick of the bunch.
Smith will want to give the likes of Jack Grealish a rest, but there will be game time for some of his other first team stars and one player we like is Anwar El Ghazi. The Dutchman has netted five Premier League goals in 482 minutes of action this term, and he is a princely 3/1 to find the net here at any time.