A COVID-19 ravaged Aston Villa side welcome Liverpool to Villa Park for the ultimate test of the quality of their academy and squad depth.
Aston Villa’s training ground was closed on Thursday following a “significant” COVID-19 outbreak, meaning there is a chance that Villa could be forced to forfeit the match should they be unable to field a full team. If they can field a team, then it will be solely made up of players from the Under 23s.
Villa will be forced to hand out 11 first team debuts should the game go ahead on Friday night. Mark Delaney may also have to step in to take over managerial duties as well. It will be a reverse of what Liverpool did when the sides met in the Carabao Cup just over a year ago.
Worryingly for Villa is the U23 team has been somewhat underperforming this season. Despite having some of the most promising young talent in the country, including 17-year-old starlet Louie Barry, the Young Lions currently sit 10th in their league, just one point above bottom placed Reading. They were also knocked out of the Papa John’s Trophy at the group stage having lost all three of their games and ending on a goal difference of -12.
As for Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Naby Keita, Diogo Jota and Joel Matip are set to miss the game. It is expected that Klopp will choose to rotate his team due to the ongoing injury crisis at Anfield as well as the winter fixture pileup.
Aston Villa: Akos Onodi (GK), Kaine Kesler, Dominic Revan, Mungo Bridge, Ben Chrisene, Carney Chukwuemeka, Lamare Bogarde, Aaron Ramsey, Tyreik Wright, Louie Barry, Jaden Pilogene-Bidace
For Villa, this will prove to be a valuable opportunity to look at some of the club’s promising young talent. Carney Chukwuemeka is the latest golden boy to come out of Bodymoor Heath and has recently signed a professional contract, there have been calls for Louie Barry to feature in the first team lately and Jaden Pilogene-Bidace has been attracting interest from RB Leipzig. For neutrals, there is a chance to view Lamare Bogarde, the nephew of former Ajax, Barcelona and Chelsea defender Winston Bogarde.
Liverpool: Caoimhin Kelleher, Morgan Boyes, Nat Phillips, Rhys Williams, Neco Williams, Takumi Minamino, James Milner, Leighton Clarkson, Curtis Jones, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri
Liverpool’s team will be tricky to predict. It is not expected that Klopp will field a full team of youngsters as he did on several occasions last season, but it is unclear how many first teamers he is willing to risk given the current injury crisis plaguing the club. There are also few options at left back, with Andy Robertson likely being rested and Tony Gallacher still being out on loan, hence why Morgan Boyes slips into this team at left back rather than his more natural role at centre back as his loan with Fleetwood Town has come to an end.
Ones to watch
From a Villa perspective, all eyes will be on Louie Barry. He has scored prolifically for the Under 23s, sitting on six goals from seven starts this season, and many have been eagerly awaiting his jump up to the senior team.
As for Liverpool, their fans could be looking to Rhys Williams. He has made ten appearances since stepping up to the Liverpool first team this season, including playing in every Champions League group game, so all eyes will be on him to see how he progresses.
Villa and Liverpool have had an interesting recent history with each other.
They met three times in the 2019/20 season, with Liverpool coming out on top on average. The Reds sprung a miracle victory at Villa Park in the Premier League, with goals from Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane in the final ten minutes securing a 2-1 win. Villa hit back with a 5-0 win against Liverpool’s team of debutants managed by Neil Critchley in the Carabao Cup, before the Reds secured a routine 2-0 win at Anfield after Project Restart.
The last time the sides met was one of the most shocking results in modern memory, however. An Ollie Watkins hattrick, a brace from Jack Grealish and goals from Ross Barkley and John McGinn secured a stunning 7-2 victory for Dean Smith’s men, leaving Liverpool confused and Graeme Souness blaming the grass.
Where to watch
The match will be broadcast live on BT Sport, with streaming available via the BT Player and Sky Go apps. Kick-off is at 7:45 PM.