Aston Villa-Liverpool Preview

TOM BENNETT (STATS European Football Writer)
The Associated Press

Title-chasing Liverpool will be looking to avoid a slip-up when they welcome Aston Villa to Anfield on Saturday.

Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool (13-3-5) have won six of their last eight league games, but the two exceptions were back-to-back 2-1 defeats to fellow title challengers Chelsea and Manchester City over Christmas, leaving the Reds off the pace at the top of the table. Despite being six points adrift of leaders Arsenal going into the latest round of matches, Rodgers is convinced that his squad still have a great chanceā€¦ as long as they don't drop points in fixtures such as Villa at home.

"Of course, everyone will talk about the three clubs that's there in front of us because they've got squads that have been around there for years and have big squads to choose from," said Rodgers. "For us it's a case of continually improving and working, and trying to fight to be up there. We have to maintain our focus and concentration. You really have to push during the second half of the season and keep your standards high, not just on the games, but every day in training.

"Thankfully I have a group of players that are brilliantly focused and are determined to maintain our standards, take it into every game and ensure we get the points."

Aston Villa (6-5-10) will be huge underdogs, despite being as high as 11th in the table. Paul Lambert's side have lost five of their last seven in the league, replicating their terrible dip in form over Christmas last season, and the club were forced to publicly back their manager ahead of the trip to Anfield.

Villa chief executive Paul Faulkner, right-hand man to owner Randy Lerner, said: "Football is a harsh, brutal business. Criticism and stick goes flying about. But being in the middle of it, you have to stay strong together and support each other. If you don't keep going when there is a little bit of stick, then you won't achieve anything ultimately. With the right guy, you have to weather those storms when they come.

"Twelve months ago, we were in a really bad run. We stuck together during that and saw the benefits in the second half of the season. We know what the manager is trying to do, we believe it is a good way. Over time it is going to allow Aston Villa to put ourselves in the best position to compete and challenge in the right half of the table where we want to be."

Liverpool have injury doubts over Brad Jones (knock), Mamadou Sakho (hamstring) and Joe Allen (groin), while Jon Flanagan (hamstring), Jose Enrique (knee), Sebastian Coates (knee) and Daniel Agger (calf) are out. Aston Villa are missing Libor Kosak (broken leg), Chris Herd (hamstring), Joe Bennett (back), Jores Okore (knee) and Charles N'Zogbia, while Nathan Baker is doubtful with concussion.

A Daniel Sturridge goal was the difference between these teams when they met at Villa Park in August. Sturridge's strike was Liverpool's only attempt on target in the game.

Villa have lost just one of their last four games at Anfield and won 3-1 at the ground last season.

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