Aston Villa-Liverpool Preview
Two sides who have both made stuttering starts to the season meet Saturday when Liverpool entertain Aston Villa at Anfield.
The Reds (2-2-2) opened the season with back-to-back league victories but have since taken just two points from four matches. Liverpool are down in 13th place and the pressure is building on under-fire manage Brendan Rodgers.
The Merseysiders were held to a disappointing 1-1 home draw by promoted Norwich City last weekend.
Summer signing Danny Ings came off the bench to score his first Liverpool goal early in the second half before the Canaries drew level on the hour mark through Russell Martin following a mistake by Reds goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
One piece of good news for the Anfield crowd was the re-appearance of striker Daniel Sturridge, who made his first Premier League start in nearly six months following a series of injury setbacks. England international Sturridge understandably looked rusty and mustered one shot on target before being substituted after 63 minutes.
Liverpool were involved in midweek League Cup action and squeezed past fourth-tier side Carlisle United 3-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra-time in a third-round match at Anfield on Wednesday.
Ings gave the Reds the lead on 23 minutes, but Derek Asama equalised 10 minutes later. Liverpool dominated possession but couldn't find a winner against their League Two opponents, and the match went to penalties.
Goalkeeper Adam Bogdan was Liverpool's hero as he saved three penalties in the shootout in his debut for the club.
Martin Skrtel was full of praise for teammate Bogdan after the match.
"Adam was good. It was his first game, his first game at Anfield, and he's been doing well," Skrtel told the Liverpool website. "Obviously we expected it to be a different game, but as we know there is no easy game here in England.
"But the main thing is we went through to the next round and we're happy about that. When the teams from the lower leagues come to Anfield, they come here with nothing to lose so they just try to defend well and score from a counter attack."
Villa (1-1-4) started their campaign with a victory but have since lost four of five league matches and picked up just one point in that spell. They are in 17th place, two points above bottom-club Sunderland.
The Villans lost 1-0 at home against West Bromwich Albion last weekend in the West Midlands derby, as Baggies striker Saido Berahino netted the only goal.
Tim Sherwood's side received a confidence booster with a 1-0 League Cup victory over local archrivals Birmingham City at Villa Park on Tuesday. Benin striker Rudy Gestede headed the only goal of the game on 63 minutes against Championship side Birmingham.
Villa boss Sherwood buoyed by his side's cup victory.
"I was delighted to send these great fans home extra happy," Sherwood told his club's website. "I know the fans were disappointed after Saturday but so were me and the players.
"We wanted to put it right for the fans. They stuck with us throughout the game. They have the bragging rights now."
Liverpool will be without lead striker Christian Benteke, who has been ruled out for two weeks with a hamstring problem, while Dejan Lovren and Roberto Firmino both picked up injuries in midweek. Skipper Jordan Henderson remains sidelined with ankle trouble.
Villa's Gabby Agbonlahor is doubtful with an ankle injury.
Both teams won away last season, with the Reds winning 2-0 at Villa Park in January. Fabio Borini opened the scoring on 24 minutes and Rickie Lambert made the points safe 11 minutes from time. Villa won 1-0 at Anfield in September on Agbonlahor's ninth-minute goal.
Villa rallied to beat Liverpool 2-1 in an FA Cup semifinal at Wembley last April. Philippe Coutinho had the Reds in front on the half-hour mark, but current Red Benteke equalised six minutes later. Fabian Delph scored the winner nine minutes into the second half.
Overall Liverpool holds the Premier League head-to-head advantage, winning 24 times to Villa's 12. There have been 10 draws in 46 meetings, and Liverpool have outscored Villa 73-44.