Preview: Aston Villa vs. Liverpool

Third meets fourth in the penultimate round of Premier League fixtures on Monday evening, as Aston Villa and Liverpool square off at Villa Park.

While the Reds are already assured of Champions League football for next season ahead of Jurgen Klopp’s final away game, the Lions can join them at Europe’s top table with maximum points.

Match Preview

Unai Emery’s previous penchant for glory on the continent did not translate into a place in the Europa Conference League final for Aston Villa this time around, as the Lions were undone by Greek giants Olympiacos, who put one foot in the showpiece with a stunning 4-2 first-leg success in the West Midlands.

If Villa defenders were not already having nightmares about hat-trick hero Ayoub El Kaabi, the Olympiacos striker guaranteed that he would be haunting Lions’ dreams for a little while longer thanks to a second-leg brace, ensuring that the Greek giants would scrap it out with Fiorentina for European stardom on May 29.

Either side of their two losses to Olympiacos, Aston Villa also became a rare victim of a shot-shy Brighton & Hove Albion side in Premier League action, going down 1-0 to the Seagulls in the second of three consecutive defeats; they have never lost four on the spin under Emery’s wing, however.

Tottenham Hotspur’s success over Championship-bound Burnley on Saturday also denied Villa the chance to seal fourth without kicking a ball, but still four points clear of Spurs, a return to the European big time will be theirs if they come out on the correct end of Monday’s scoreline.

However, the hosts have lost their Villa Park sparkle after their historic 15-game winning sequence on home field, only prevailing in three of their last eight Premier League contests in front of their own fans, but Emery is yet to oversee back-to-back top-flight defeats in 2023-24.

The Spaniard’s opposite number Jurgen Klopp has suggested that his counterpart should have been given more time to work his magic at Arsenal, whose North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur were the victims of a four-goal flurry from the rampant Reds at Anfield last weekend.

Pulling themselves out of their Everton and West Ham United ruts, Liverpool struck through Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson, Harvey Elliott and Cody Gakpo before Richarlison and Son Heung-min sparked slim hopes of an improbable turnaround, one which unsurprisingly did not come to fruition.

Sending Spurs back to North London empty-handed mathematically kept Liverpool in the hunt for top-flight glory, but owing to Manchester City’s crushing win over Fulham on Saturday lunchtime, it is now just a two-horse race between the champions and Arsenal.

As the Merseyside outfit mourn their dreams of Premier League supremacy in Klopp’s closing campaign, they can at least prolong a magnificent May unbeaten streak in the German’s last-ever away game in charge; they have gone unbeaten in 18 Premier League games in the current month since going down 1-0 to Chelsea in 2018.

A repeat of October’s astounding 7-2 victory for Aston Villa would put another dampener on Klopp’s farewell, but the Lions have since lost six and drawn one of their last seven contests versus Monday’s visitors, who were convincing 3-0 winners in September’s Anfield encounter and have 16 Premier League away successes to their name against Villa, more than any other opponent.

Team News

While first-choice goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez was given the all-clear to face Olympiacos in midweek, the same could not be said for Youri Tielemans (groin), Alex Moreno (unspecified) and Nicolo Zaniolo (unspecified), all of whom will require late fitness tests.

The hamstring injury that winger Morgan Rogers picked up in the Brighton loss might bring his season to an early end, while Emiliano Buendia (knee), Tyrone Mings (knee), Boubacar Kamara (knee) and Jacob Ramsey (ankle) are known absentees.

As such, options for change are mainly limited to up-and-coming academy products – including 20-year-old midfielder Tim Ireogbunam, who has one Premier League start to his name this season – although Clement Lenglet could provide fresh legs at the back.

Regarding Liverpool’s availability, it is as you were on the fitness front, with Diogo Jota (hip), Ben Doak (knee), Bobby Clark (unspecified), Thiago Alcantara (muscle) and Joel Matip (knee) still on the sidelines.

Eagle-eyed Reds fans spotted that Robertson was nowhere to be seen in the latest set of training pictures, but he was at the AXA facility on Friday and will seemingly be fine to feature; Kostas Tsimikas and Joe Gomez are on standby if not.

After admitting that his one “regret” this season was not playing Elliott enough, Klopp can be expected to give the Englishman another run-out in the centre of the park, while Gakpo surely justifies selection over Darwin Nunez, whom Klopp has stressed that there is “no speculation” over after the misfiring Uruguayan curiously deleted nearly all traces of Liverpool from his Instagram.

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