Aston Villa face ‘elite’ opposition for the second time in as many Premier League games, as Liverpool make their way to Villa Park. Complete Preview returns to give you the low-down on last years Champion’s League winners.
Words: Guy Poxon | @GuyPoxon
A whirlwind week will see Aston Villa play for the second time at Villa Park in four days as Dean Smith’s side face the reigning European Champions and current league-leaders Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp has restored Liverpool to the domestic and European titan that they are known to be historically, and this year they look capable of bagging the treble.
What makes Liverpool so good though? As you might expect, there are a few factors.
Pool with a purpose
Predicted formation: 4-3-3
Predicted line-up: Alisson, Alexander-Arnold, Lovren, van Dijk, Robertson, Henderson (C), Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Salah, Mane, Firmino
The 4-3-3 formation is popular in football because of its incredible versatility. Such is Liverpool’s style that they almost play with only two players at the back at times, whilst their fullbacks famously push on to create crossing opportunities.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson have continued to provide lethal outlets as rampaging fullbacks – racking up one goal and five assists between them this season.
The fullbacks, who can only be described as the best fullback duo in the world right now, have combined to provide 5.1 key passes, 3.6 crosses and 7.4 long balls on average per game.
Frederic Guilbert and Matt Targett haven’t exactly been criticised for a lack of attacking intent – they have been a breath of fresh air for supporters this season and offered a brilliant outlet for Aston Villa – but they don’t get near to their Liverpool counterparts on these numbers.
That just illustrates how impressive the Anfield duo are.
Red-hot Reds and their high-flying red arrows
The most impressive side of Liverpool is probably their attacking players.
This season, Sadio Mane has stolen plaudits in almost every game – and for good reason. Arguably, it was Mane’s two minute and 56 second hat-trick against Aston Villa on 16th May 2015 for Southampton which capped a wonderful Premier League season and earned the Senegal international his move to Anfield a few seasons ago.
This season he has scored five goals in nine league appearances for the reds, and has managed an assist too. Interestingly, his xG sits at 3.8, but Mane can thank some excellent finishing with his dangerous right foot for that – 4 goals from 11 shots on his favoured side.
Predictably, Mohamed Salah is having another world class season so far. He can be frustrating to watch at times, but his high-risk play certainly pays off and he’s scored five and assisted three so far this season – with an xG of 6.12 – making him Liverpool’s biggest goal threat.
Per 90 minutes, Salah dribbles unsuccessfully 1.4 times, but also dribbles successfully 1.9 times per game to outweigh an occasional carelessness.
Interestingly, in the last 30 minutes of games this season, Salah is a far more effective dribbler than in the first 30 minutes. He is twice as likely to complete a dribble in the final thirty rather than lose the ball. This suggests that he adapts by learning about the defenders that he’s facing throughout the match, so that he can beat them later on.
Roberto Firmino completes the world class attacking line-up, and despite scoring the fewest of the three with three goals, Firmino holds the highest average match rating with 7.49, whilst Mane and Salah have average match ratings of 7.41 and 7,40 respectively.
Firmino’s three assists only tell part of a story. Comparing the Brazilian to Jack Grealish, you can clearly see the impact he is having on games:
|Stat||Jack Grealish||Roberto Firmino|
|Shots per game||1.8||3.2|
|Tackles and interceptions||2.1||1.1|
|Key passes per 90||2.5||1.2|
|Dribbles per 90||1.9||2|
|Fouled per 90||4.1||0.6|
|Dispossessed per 90||1.8||1.3|
|Bad touches per 90||1||3|
They are both different players and they play in different positions, but when you consider how influential Jack Grealish has been for Aston Villa – and then compare his stats to Firmino, you can see how the Brazilian mirrors a lot of the great actions that are necessary to win a game – a high pass percentage, excellent aerial duelling ability, good dribbling, rarely getting dispossessed, a reasonable amount of tackles high up the pitch and a high number of shots on goal per game.
The Liverpool machine ticks away like clockwork
Liverpool’s form sees them as probably the best team in the world right now. They have the quality to fight back from difficult positions and match their opponents no matter what is thrown at them.
If you compare Liverpool’s entire squad to Aston Villa, you will see that each player in the Anfield side averages 1.5 shots per game, a 50% aerial duel success rate, 0.9 dribbles per game and a 7.2 average rating. Villa, on the other hand, average 1.2 shots per game, 46% aerial duel success rate, 0.8 dribbles per game and a 7.0 average rating.
The reds can out tackle, out-header, out-shoot and probably out-play any team in the division – and that will worry Dean Smith.
This season, Klopp’s high-flyers have dominated play in the interval between the 30th and 60th minute. During this period, they have an average xG of about 6, with a low xGA of 1.3. This means that in the middle of games they seem to be very efficient at creating chances, but also at limiting their opposition’s threat.
Meanwhile, either side of this period – the opening and closing areas of the game, and Liverpool look slightly less Mercurial with an 2.7 xG and a 1.8 xGA.
What might interest Dean Smith is that Liverpool have looked shaky in defence during the final 15 minutes, conceding 38% of their goals after the 75th minute. Their expected xGA during this period is 2.75 – almost double that of every other 15-minute interval.
The third attempt at a defensive approach for the Villans
Against Manchester City, it was a couple of defensive errors (and a bad VAR call, AGAIN) that cost them in the end. City created chances as expected, and Aston Villa found it difficult to deal with their high press – resulting in a handful of mistakes from Engels and Mings.
Dean Smith’s side also looked sloppy when taking or defending set-pieces. John Terry and the rest of the coaching staff will likely have been working on the finer details with the players in the run-up to this game. The lessons learned from the City game remain fresh in the minds of the players – and this may help Aston Villa’s fortunes.
Both teams will have their chances – Liverpool will likely have more of them – but if Aston Villa can iron out those one or two defensive errors and improve set pieces, they will have a chance at Villa Park.