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Preview: Liverpool vs. Aston Villa - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Sunday's Premier League clash between champions Liverpool and relegation-threatened Aston Villa, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

Liverpool continue their Premier League victory parade at home to relegation-threatened Aston Villa on Sunday, although Jurgen Klopp will be demanding a response from his side.

The Reds' first match as champions saw them fall to their heaviest defeat of the season at the hands of Manchester City on Thursday night, but they will expect to return to winning ways against a Villa side in dire form near the bottom of the table.

Match preview

Liverpool players react to conceding a goal against Manchester City on July 2, 2020© Reuters

Perhaps Liverpool's 4-0 defeat at the hands of Manchester City on Thursday night was inevitable to a certain extent.

Klopp's men had every right to celebrate achieving something which had not been done in the lifetimes of an entire generation of the club's fans, finally returning to their perch as kings of England for the first time in 30 years, and doing so in unprecedented style too.

Man City, by contrast, would have been fired up by losing the title in such emphatic fashion, and the fact that they had to give Liverpool a guard of honour before the match would have only fuelled the desire to prove a point against their usurpers.

Add to that the demand of Pep Guardiola and his players in any match, yet alone against their biggest rivals for domestic trophies, and it was a perfect storm in many ways - one which Liverpool could reasonably brush off as 'one of those days'.

In the grand scheme of things, the result does not matter much; Liverpool are already champions and still boast a 20-point lead over their closest challengers even after the defeat.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp pictured on July 2, 2020© Reuters

Having said that, it will still hurt - less than a 4-0 defeat to Man City would normally hurt - but it will hurt nonetheless. Klopp's spiky interviews after the game were evidence of that if any was needed.

The Liverpool boss had said everything right in the buildup to kickoff and insisted that he had no issues with his players' attitude during the game itself, they were simply beaten by the more clinical team on the night.

The Reds had plenty of chances themselves and hit the post while things were still goalless, but it is the scoreline which people remember and Liverpool will certainly want a response to that this weekend.

On paper, there are not many better fixtures for them to provide that response; Aston Villa arrive at Anfield on the longest current winless run in the Premier League, having taken just two points from the last 24 on offer to them.

It is therefore no surprise to see Dean Smith's side languishing towards the bottom of the table, although they actually climbed a place without playing during the week courtesy of Bournemouth's heavy defeat at home to Newcastle United.

Aston Villa manager Dean Smith pictured on June 27, 2020© Reuters

Villa still sit in the relegation zone, though, and West Ham United's victory over Chelsea means that they are a point away from safety as opposed to only being in the bottom three on goal difference as was the case even after their 1-0 home defeat at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers last Saturday.

It is by no means an unassailable gap, of course, but Villa's run-in is difficult with Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Everton and Arsenal to come after this one, and then a potentially decisive final-day showdown with West Ham.

Smith's side are likely to need a few shocks along the way if they are to stay up, then, but none would be bigger than if they pick something up from Anfield on Sunday.

Even discounting the likelihood of a Liverpool backlash, the statistics make this look like the worst possible match-up for Villa.

Liverpool are on the best winning run in English top-flight history having taken maximum points in each of their last 23 outings at Anfield - a run which stretches back to January 2019 - while their unbeaten record on Merseyside stands at 56 matches since April 2017.

Aston Villa's Ahmed Elmohamady celebrates scoring against Newcastle on June 24, 2020© Reuters

Villa, by contrast, have only won two of their last 34 top-flight away games and have conceded in each of their last 23 - their longest-ever run in the Premier League era.

Liverpool have only lost one of their last 24 home games against a team starting the day in the relegation zone; Villa have only taken two points from their last 15 top-flight away games against teams starting the day top of the table.

Villa have also failed to win any of their 15 outings against teams currently in the top nine of the table this season, whereas Liverpool have dropped points in only four games throughout 2019-20.

Most of the stats make grim reading for Villa, then, but there are some reasons for a glimmer of hope - not least that Liverpool have now lost five of their last nine games across all competitions, which is as many as they had lost in their previous 76.

The Reds have also now lost more games in the league this season than they did last term, and another defeat would see them beaten in back-to-back Premier League matches for the first time in Klopp's five-year reign.

Liverpool's Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah celebrate a goal against Crystal Palace on June 24, 2020© Reuters

A Villa victory would rank among the biggest upsets in Premier League history, but statistically speaking so did Watford's triumph over the Reds in March, and Villa have the added hope that Liverpool have now achieved their primary goal of winning the title.

There is still plenty to fight for as far as the hosts are concerned, though, including their place in the ranks of English football's greatest ever teams.

Five more wins from their final six games is what they need to surpass Man City's records for most points and most wins in a season, while that would leave them on course to record the biggest title-winning margin too.

Liverpool still have games against Villa, Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley, Arsenal, Chelsea and Newcastle United to come so they will be confident of picking up those five wins, although it will require them to be on the ball until the very end with at least four of those teams likely to have more need for the points than Klopp's men.

Villa certainly come into that bracket, although it would be a major shock if they avoided being the first ticked off from Liverpool's five-win target.

Liverpool Premier League form: WLWDWL
Liverpool form (all competitions): LWLDWL

Aston Villa Premier League form: LLDLDL
Aston Villa form (all competitions): LLDLDL

Team News

Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Liverpool against Napoli in the Champions League on November 27, 2019.© Reuters

Klopp has vowed not to field weakened teams for the remainder of the season, and he has no need to either with no FA Cup or Champions League left to fight for.

That said, many would regard the XI from the last two matches as their best and Klopp could make changes to that for this game given both the result against Man City and the quick turnaround in fixtures.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita are among the players who will be hopeful of a recall, while James Milner is also now available again after a hamstring strain.

Dejan Lovren missed the Man City defeat as a precaution due to a knock but could be back in contention here, while Xherdan Shaqiri is also closing in on a return but will not be back in time for this match.

Joel Matip is Liverpool's only long-term absentee currently, with the centre-back ruled out for the remainder of the season due to a toe injury.

Aston Villa will be without Matt Targett due to a hamstring problem, but Frederic Guilbert and Danny Drinkwater are available while Henri Lansbury will undergo a late fitness test.

Long-term absentees Wesley and Tom Heaton remain out, as does Bjorn Engels due to an Achilles problem.

Villa's dreadful recent form shows correlation with Jack Grealish's drought; he has gone nine league appearances without a goal and has only contributed one assist in those matches.

Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Henderson, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Mane

Aston Villa possible starting lineup:
Nyland; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; McGinn, Luiz, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Davis, Grealish

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We say: Liverpool 4-0 Aston Villa

Liverpool's Anfield record against Aston Villa is actually quite poor - just three wins from their last nine such meetings - and Villa came close to winning the reverse before two goals after the 87th minute saw the Reds turn things around, but it is difficult to look past a home victory here.

It seems to be the perfect match for the Reds to bounce back and the worst possible one for Aston Villa. The visitors do have more to fight for and there are one or two reasons to be optimistic, but the bulk of the evidence points to a very comfortable Liverpool win.

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