Aston Villa welcome Liverpool to Villa Park on Saturday in high spirits, according to manager Paul Lambert, despite the controversial nature of their 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in midweek. Having fought back from the concession of an early goal at Stamford Bridge, Branislav Ivanovic remained on the pitch despite striking Christian Benteke with an elbow and subsequently went onto score the game-winner. That a late penalty was also denied them only added to Villa’s sense of indignation. Yet, after a thrilling 3-1 victory at Arsenal on the opening day, Lambert has said that his players are rightly feeling positive.
“We have come away from two difficult games with our confidence really high,” he explained. "We're vibrant -- and so we should be because of the way we have played. The lads are playing incredibly well at the moment. We have got the bit between the teeth, which is great.
"They have been outstanding in the last couple of games. We went to a team who could win the Barclays Premier League and who will be playing in the Champions League. But we took the game to them and gave them a right fright.”
Nathan Baker will again miss out for Villa after being taken off against Arsenal, but Ciaran Clark is expected to be fit following a head wound suffered on Wednesday.
Liverpool should also begin the match in a healthy state of mind after they opened up their Premier League campaign with a victory over Stoke. Despite dominating the match, it took a solitary goal from Daniel Sturridge and a dramatic late penalty save by debutante Simon Mignolet to secure the victory. And it was a win that manager Brendan Rodgers believes showed his side’s developing character.
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“That's been a big emphasis for us as we've gone along since I've come in,” he said. "In order to be a winner you have to have the belief and that was something that, maybe coming in last year, we weren't able to do consistently. But we've picked up a lot. It might only have been a small thing last week but to get that win shows the development, mentally, in the group.”
Luis Suarez, the subject of fresh transfer speculation in recent days, will continue to serve his suspension. Fellow-Uruguayan Sebastian Coates will miss most of the season due to an injury picked up on international duty. Left-back Aly Cissokho, signed on-loan from Valencia, is likely to be on the bench.
Aston Villa (probable)
D: Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Luna
M: El Ahmadi, Westwood, Delph
F: Weimann, Benteke, Agbonlahor
D: Johnson, Toure, Agger, Enrique
M: Lucas, Gerrard
Aspas, Henderson, Coutinho
Prediction: The pace of Aston Villa’s front three will pose a significant threat to Liverpool. Christian Benteke, in particular, has started the season in outstanding form and the aging legs of Kolo Toure could have a tough evening. In midfield, too, Villa play at a high tempo that Liverpool will have to match. Jordan Henderson, who was encouraging in Liverpool’s opener, will likely have to do plenty of running, with neither Lucas nor Steven Gerrard now overly dynamic.
Going forward, though, Liverpool were a joy to watch at times against Stoke, The interchange and movement between Iago Aspas, Philippe Coutinho and Sturridge is likely to be a handful for a Villa backline that is still less than airtight. An intriguing draw could be on the cards.
Aston Villa 1-1 Liverpool
Where to watch: The Premier League encounter will kick-off at 12.30 p.m. ET on Saturday. Coverage will be provided by NBC, with a live stream on NBCSN.