28 March 2013 10:29
Aston Villa will fight to maintain breathing space between themselves and Premier League relegation when they face Liverpool on Sunday.
The Villans currently occupy 17th position on the table and are just three points clear of the drop zone.
Wigan are 18th, have the luxury of a game in hand on the Birmingham club and would be quietly confident of getting a result against Norwich at the DW Stadium at the weekend.
And given Wigan play on Saturday, Aston Villa could potentially occupy the first relegation spot by the time their game kicks off due to inferior goal difference.
That scenario would intensify the pressure even more on Villa with just eight matches remaining in their campaign.
Liverpool also have a carrot dangling in front of them in the twilight of the season, with a Europa League spot still within their reach.
The Reds are five points behind fifth-placed Arsenal, although the Gunners have a game in hand, and a win against Aston Villa is critical if they wish to avoid missing out on European action for the second time in three seasons.
Villa head into this clash with their tails up after back-to-back league wins against Reading (2-1) and fellow battlers QPR (3-2) – a feat they hadn’t achieved since December 15.
Coincidentally on that occasion more than three months ago, it was a 3-1 win against Liverpool, which followed a 4-1 thumping of Norwich, that delivered the Claret and Blue consecutive victories.
Liverpool’s recent momentum hit a snag last time out when they suffered a 3-1 loss to Southampton, but prior to that match they strung together four wins in a row in all competitions against Tottenham, Wigan, Zenit St Petersburg (Europa League) and Swansea.
Paul Lambert’s men haven’t lost to Liverpool since December 2011 and that fact is sure to give them some sort of confidence heading into this clash, especially given their last meeting against the Reds produced a memorable victory for them.
In a boost for Liverpool, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina are in the mix to return after their respective absences, according to first-team coach Mike Marsh.
“They’re both available for selection, so it’s a possibility (they will both play),” Marsh said.
Marsh also indicated that the Reds escaped injury-free from the cluster of international fixtures that took place during the week.
“I’ve got to be honest, I’m watching the games and hoping that the players come back fit and well,” he said.
“Although you do want the players that are representing their country to get a positive result, I’m more concerned that when they come back to Melwood (Liverpool’s training complex) that they’re fit and ready to play at the weekend.
“We seem to have come through unscathed.”