If you watch one game this weekend, it sounds like it should be Liverpool v Aston Villa.
The Premier League leaders travel to face Dean Smith’s side on Saturday afternoon, still unbeaten and six points clear at the top of the table, but they could be faced with a few problems if Villa play like they can.
“This is a really key game for Liverpool,” said Duncan Alexander on Thursday’s Totally Football Show, “because they play Manchester City next weekend: if they win this one they will be top whatever happens in that game, but if they slip up here, that game could see City come close to or overtake them on goal difference.”
Villa’s key man for most of the season has been John McGinn, but according to Lynsey Hooper it could be someone different this time.
“I think other teams have kept McGinn quiet recently,” she said. “He had that little spell [where he was great], but now it will be Jack Grealish who will be the biggest threat to Liverpool.”
Either way, prepare yourself for plenty of goalmouth action.
“This is going to have some of the most creative players in the Premier League in this game,” said Duncan. “If we look at passing sequences that lead to shots, McGinn and Grealish are third and fourth in the Premier League this season – Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling are the top two, while Trent Alexander-Arnold is fifth.
“Grealish is the highest non-City player in sequences in terms of xG value, Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino are just ahead of him. I think this has the potential to be a really open, entertaining game.”
“The reverse of that is you see how hard Tyrone Mings is working,” said Anton Toloui. “He’s way ahead in the number of clearances, top in the number of blocked shots with 23, which is seven more than any other defender. They really work the defence hard and Liverpool may well take advantage of that.”
Of course, it could all be decided from the bench, by a man who has developed a reputation as Liverpool’s cameo-maker in chief, as he did against Arsenal in the Carabao Cup this week.
“Divock Origi’s bicycle kick – is this man superhuman?” said Lynsey Hooper. “He just comes on and produces something spectacular. He will go down in Liverpool folklore, you can see how much he means to them, but I just don’t understand how he always delivers in those moments.”
Duncan said: “It’s very hard to be that sort of sub, because players usually like to play a lot, but you do get those sort of player like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and David Fairclough who maybe did recognise they’re never going to be a first-choice striker and would rather be that impact player at a big club – scoring in Champions League finals – than a first-choice for a mid-table team.”
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