Things can change rapidly in this Premier League season. Liverpool’s defeat to Tottenham at the end of November appeared to confirm that Brendan Rodgers’ first campaign at the helm would be characterized by encouraging performances not being matched by results.
A season mired in the oblivion of midtable looked on the cards. And that may still transpire. Liverpool sit in 10th in the Premier League, but, after back-to-back league victories for the first time this term, there is reason to look upward.
Such is the tight nature of the Premier League that Liverpool are just four points adrift of fourth place and an oh-so-coveted qualifying position for the Champions League. Rodgers, though, has his sights set even higher than that.
“I said to the players this morning that everyone talks about fourth place but what about third? We are 11 points off second so, if we can get some consistency, keep our mentality and our focus then it is not fourth place we want to aim for,” Rodgers said, according to the Guardian. “We have still to play Manchester City and we should have beaten them at home.
"You want to aim as high as you possibly can but, of course, when the club has been out of the top four for so long, that is the ultimate ambition. But we will not get too carried away. We are not even halfway through the league. We just need to focus day to day on our work, tactically prepare the team, keep confidence high and keep as many players available as we can in order to get results."
A third win on the bounce, against Aston Villas on Saturday, would go a long way to showing that Liverpool have the consistency required to match Rodgers’ lofty ambitions.
A late decision will be made on the fitness of Jose Enrique, after the Spaniard was forced off during Sunday’s 3-2 win at West Ham with a hamstring injury. Luis Suarez returns after serving his one match suspension.
While Aston Villa’s position just one place above the relegation zone suggests it could be a comfortable afternoon for the Reds, Paul Lambert’s side are beginning to find some form.
Villa have gone five matches without defeat in all competitions and reached the Capital One Cup semifinals in emphatic fashion on Tuesday with a 4-1 win at Norwich. On a rare recent start, Darren Bent was taken off injured in that match, although Villa may not miss their record signing.
Bent’s replacement Andreas Weimann scored a late brace, while Christian Benteke also scored to help vindicate Lambert’s controversial decision to marginalize Bent.
The striker is set to miss up to four weeks, but defenders Enda Stephens and Joe Bennett are ready to return. Ron Vlaar is nearing full fitness, but may not be risked on Saturday.
D: Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique
M: Lucas, Allen
Sterling, Gerrard, Cole
Aston Villa (probable)
D: Herd, Clark, Baker
M: Lowton, Holman, Westwood, Delph, Lichaj
F: Weimann, Benteke
Prediction: With what could amount to a five-man defense, Aston Villa are likely to try and keep things tight at the back at Anfield. Given their problems in attack for much of this season, Liverpool could struggle for long periods to make the breakthrough. However, there looks a better balance about the side now and they should just do enough for a narrow win.
Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa
Where to watch: The Barclays Premier League match will kick-off at 10 a.m. ET. A live stream will be provided by Fox Soccer 2Go.