So after a 2-0 victory over Midlands side Wolverhampton Wanderers on Boxing Day can Liverpool go to fellow Midlanders Aston Villa tomorrow and come away with another 3 points?
Aston Villa, widely regarded as challengers for the top 4 are set to be there or there about again this season. With their current form sustaining their current 4th spot and their points tally reading 5 better than Liverpool, it can sometimes be a cause for concern.
However, i just don't think Villa, Spurs or City will continue pushing, not this season anyway, and although Martin O'Neill has no doubt done a fantastic job i can't help but think that his 4th spot ambition is just a dream and nothing more. Even on the back of some terrible Liverpool results which have totally opened up the opportunity he and the team have not taken a full stranglehold on the chance.
Just by looking at last year it is clear to see that there comes a stage when the pushers push too much and the steam just runs out.
Aston Villa last season had so many moments to pounce on Arsenal, at one stage they were almost comfortably ahead but after so many silly draws i.e. Bolton, Everton and Middlesbrough, the dream began to slip away. Everton were actually allowed to finish above the Midlanders in the end, shocking to both Martin O'Neill and most football fans, they had such a great opportunity and just threw it all away.
You only have to analyze Arsenal and Villa's season to see the difference in the teams.
Arsenal Points Tally By End Of December 08/09 Season = 35
Aston Villa Points Tally By End Of December 08/09 Season = 38
Okay by then it was only a 3 point advantage but more than a chance to continue capitalizing on an Arsenal side that appeared very poor until they began the turn around and Villa slipped and slipped.
Arsenal Points Tally For Second Half Of Season = 37
Aston Villa Points Tally For Second Half Of Season = 24
Going from a nice little cushion of 3 points at the end of the year to a 13 point deficit and being leapfrogged by Everton is quite a feat if you ask me. What a chance they had too.
Arsenal last season were effectively in the same situation that we find ourselves in at the moment and i just feel even with teams in the "big 4" struggling to find form, eventually it always shows up, leaving the likes of Villa, Spurs, City, Everton (on some occasions) etc just settling for the slots underneath.
It's the same this season for Villa, although in all fairness we can't really say anything at the moment because they are in fact in 4th place (although if Spurs beat West Ham today this will change), but you only have to look again at some of the silly results that will no doubt crop up again for Villa in the second half of the season - Draw with Wolves, Draw with Everton, Loss to West Ham. Not to mention the fact that they seem to really struggle when facing the teams around them. They will slide and that 4th spot will be there for the taking. Not without us putting the work in of course but a combination of the likes of Villa, Spurs and City continuing to slip up in the latter stages of the season along with Liverpool finding form is what my prediction is.
Not usually one to get these things right but after watching the way the games and table panned out last season and having also watched it this season, it is quite clear that is the obvious set up. Of course, if we don't go out there and do something about it then it WILL be handed to one of the pushers.
So what a great way to start by showing Villa the way to "push" and then most importantly "secure" that 4th spot?
If Liverpool can come away tomorrow with the desired 3 points, already before the year is out we will have managed to close the gap to just 2 points. With Spurs next up after Reading in the FA Cup this is a vital moment for Liverpool to portray how the big boys do it and how despite the fact we have faltered, we are a good old fashioned football team who strive for what they need, not just drop our heads and let that be that.
Liverpool are again still without Kelly, NEZ, Riera and of course Mascherano. After some promising play from Aquilani against Wolves it is assumed he will make the start in Birmingham tomorrow night. With Benayoun opted to start on the right for the last fixture i doubt this will be reflected for the next. Although at this moment in time i would perhaps prefer Benayoun to make the start, in all fairness he failed to make an impact until the second half against Wolves, maybe bringing his fresh legs on will be a better option?
Aston Villa have some top class players and as we know from our first meeting this season, they can punish the defence. Although the back four do appear to be gradually getting there, still some moments worried me against Wolves concerning Insua and Agger out of position and a couple of occasions when Carra was turned too easily. Nevertheless the lads kept the clean sheet so let's not nit pick, i just hope they can show the same sense of solidarity.
Big game, no question about it and a massive chance for Liverpool.