Preview: Liverpool vs. Aston Villa

Preview: Liverpool vs. Villa
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Sports Mole previews the Premier League clash between Liverpool and Aston Villa as Mario Balotelli prepares to make his Anfield bow as a Reds player.

Anfield will welcome Mario Balotelli as a Liverpool player for the first time when they host recent bogey side Aston Villa in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon.

The Italian striker - a £16m signing from AC Milan - made a successful Reds debut in their 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur before the international break.

Balotelli is expected to spearhead Liverpool's attack in the absence of Daniel Sturridge, who could miss up to three weeks of action with a calf problem sustained while on England duty.

Brendan Rodgers spent over £100m in the summer to make sure that the Merseysiders had the resources to cope with such injuries and could turn to either Adam Lallana or Lazar Markovic as Sturridge's replacement.

Lallana has been tipped to make his Liverpool bow this weekend, with a pre-season knee injury having prevented him from appearing for his new club since his £25m move from Southampton.

Rodgers also has one of the country's in-form players at his disposal in the shape of Raheem Sterling. The 19-year-old has helped Liverpool to six points from their opening three games and dazzled for England this week.

Villa midfielder Fabian Delph was another who impressed for the Three Lions as he made his competitive debut in the 2-0 Euro 2016 qualifying victory in Switzerland, and is believed to be close to signing a new contract with the Midlands outfit.

Local boy Gabriel Agbonlahor has already committed himself to Villa, 10 days after scoring against Hull City to help Paul Lambert record the club's joint-best start to a Premier League campaign.

The Villans, who had been tipped as relegation candidates by many, have collected seven points from a possible nine so far, although they now face a run of consecutive games against last season's top five.

Their recent record against Liverpool should give them confidence, though. The Claret and Blues have lost only one of their last five top-flight trips to Anfield and won 3-1 there in December 2012.

Lambert must decide whether to stick with what has worked so far or make changes in midfield, where Manchester United loanee Tom Cleverley and Colombian international Carlos Sanchez await full debuts.

Sanchez may replace Charles N'Zogbia to provide Villa's backline with greater protection, with Kieran Richardson pushed out to the left to share the counter-attacking responsibility with Andreas Weimann.

World Cup star and captain Ron Vlaar faces a late fitness test, but is expected to be fit to continue his crucial role in a Villa defence which will also include former Liverpool loanee Aly Cissokho.

Liverpool have defensive worries of their own, with Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan and Martin Skrtel all sidelined, although Spanish duo Javi Manquillo and Alberto Moreno have already settled into their full-back roles.

Mamadou Sakho will maintain his place alongside Dejan Lovren at centre-back, with Philippe Coutinho or Joe Allen, and Lallana or Markovic, the biggest selection dilemmas that face Rodgers.

The Reds have won eight out of their last nine home games and scored at least two goals in each of those victories.

Recent form

Liverpool: WLW

Villa: WLDW

Possible starting lineups

Liverpool: Mignolet; Manquillo, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Gerrard, Allen, Henderson; Lallana, Balotelli, Sterling

Villa: Guzan; Hutton, Vlaar, Senderos, Cissokho; Cleverley, Sanchez, Delph; Richardson, Weimann, Agbonlahor

Sports Mole says: 2-1

Who will win Saturday's match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield?

Aston Villa
Aston Villa
Liverpool's English midfielder Steven Gerrard (R) celebrates scoring a penalty against Tottenham on August 31, 2014
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