Writer: Mike Field
Date:Friday January 17 2014
Well, few of us are confident ahead of our trip to Anfield this week, so what are the thoughts of our colleagues on Vital Liverpool.
With thanks to Gavin.
1) What are you now expecting from the season following your start? Are you surprised to see Rodgers gel things as quickly as he actually has done?
Before the season started, based largely on the retaining of Luis Suarez and the squad strengthening that took place, I expected us to sustain a top four challenge. So in many regards not much has changed; Champions League qualification is still firmly on the agenda.
Of course, given we were top at Christmas and have been playing some great football, many fans are now predicting a concerted title push. Personally I think that is too much to expect at this stage, especially when you consider our squad depth in comparison to the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
We're not far away though and credit for that must go to Brendan Rodgers who has done an excellent job. I always felt he was a good fit with what we were trying to achieve in terms of building for the future and also someone who could implement a more aesthetically pleasing brand of football compared to some of the negative tactics employed by his predecessors.
That said, I didn't expect it to happen so quickly and Rodgers has been great at nurturing the likes of Raheem Sterling but also in dealing with the star players - as evidenced by his handling of Suarez during the summer.
2) What are the highlights and lowlights from the pre season/season so far?
The highlight has to be the 5-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur based on the fact Spurs are a fellow top four contender and we have an awful record at White Hart Lane. Although Suarez's four stunning strikes in the 5-1 home win over Norwich City run it close.
The lowlight is the 3-1 defeat at Hull City. We were truly terrible that day and showed no stomach for a fight. Thankfully it seems to have given us a kick up the bum because only Chelsea and Man City have beaten us since and we were unlucky on both occasions, especially at the Etihad.
3) What are your hopes for the transfer window and how do you feel your club has done so far?
There's been no activity so far but Rodgers is on record as saying he wants to bring in a couple of new players this month so I do expect some movement. Like last January, it will hopefully be a case of quality over quantity as we look to fine tune what is already a fairly strong team.
There are a couple of areas that could do with strengthening; namely a back-up attacker and at left-back. I would also like to see a defensive midfield alternative to Lucas Leiva who possesses a bit more pace and power than the Brazilian.
4) Who has turned out to be your signing of the summer?
Simon Mignolet probably edges it although he has made a couple of mistakes in recent weeks. Filling Pepe Reina's gloves was always going to be a big challenge but he seems more than up to the task.
Elsewhere, Mamadou Sakho looks a phenomenal defender and Kolo Toure has given us some invaluable experience following Jamie Carragher's retirement.
5) Who is going to be your main dangerman when we play?
Let me think... Iago Aspas? ...In all seriousness though, nobody else on the planet has been in the kind of form Suarez has been this season. His record of 22 goals in 16 Premier League appearances this term is phenomenal but it's also the quality of his strikes that amaze. Almost every one has been a goal of the month contender and his attitude has also been first class since the numerous public pleas for a move away during the summer. A recent spell as captain has also helped cap his redemption in the eyes of our fans.
6) What are your weaknesses, any clues for the game will be appreciated :-)
Defensively we're a bit suspect at the back, particularly from set pieces, which is slightly strange given the quality and physicality of our centre-backs. There is also a feeling that Rodgers' preferred formation (a variation of 4-3-2-1) can be exposed down the flanks with our full-backs not always getting the cover they need.
7) Will you have anyone out who would otherwise play?
Luis Enrique and Daniel Agger are both missing but Mamadou Sakho, Joe Allen and Jon Flanagan could be fit enough to return which will help soften the blow.
Now with a slightly more Claret and Blue angle...
8) Have Villa performed how you expected in the first half of the season, and do you see us continuing to improve (points wise not performances!) or are we going to drop down the table again?
From the outside looking in, things have gone fairly similar to last season for Villa. You can be very hit and miss - often within the same game - and I do fear that a lack of creativity will see you fully amidst a relegation battle before the end of the season.
Cristian Benteke's goals fundamentally kept you up last time around and he needs to find his scoring boots once again if a repeat is to take place.
9) Do you have any thoughts on Paul Lambert and do you think fans will be as forgiving this season as they were last?
There are aspects of Lambert that I like such as his passion and intensity on the touchline. He did a great job at Norwich and was a very good player but he appears to have become quite a negative manager.
Whether that is because of the players at his disposal, I'm not 100% sure but one thing is certain; you need to be scoring more goals to guarantee staying up.
The most frustrating thing for supporters, I'd imagine, is your home form. Seven defeats and only eight goals in 11 games at Villa Park is pretty terrible and there is a limit to how many times the 'we're a youthful and inexperienced side' excuse can be trotted out.
Part of the reason you are such is because Lambert has alienated or forced out a number of senior players, such as Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Stephen Warnock, Alan Hutton and Darren Bent, all of whom could have helped in some way!
10) We have a well stated youth policy at Villa, but really it`s based on lower division or foreign 24 year olds. Are you surprised to see Lambert not bring through and give time to those from our NextGen or U21 team that may have impressed you in recent years?
A little. We played in the first two NextGen Series and the standard was very good which makes your victory in the competition last season very impressive.
Coincidently our U18s met in the FA Youth Cup this past week and although we progressed it was clear that Villa have some decent players at that level - Jack Grealish in particular stood out for me.
In truth, I don't see enough of you guys at youth level to really pick out individuals who deserve a chance in the first team but as mentioned previously, creativity is a major issue which makes me question the decision to not play, and then let leave, the likes of Stephen Ireland and Barry Bannan.
11) Who has stood out most from our recent acquisitions for you?
Did you actually sign anyone of note then?
In fairness, a little research suggests you've been unlucky with injuries to the summer signings you did make, such as Jores Okore and Antonio Luna (whoever they are), but, out of the ones I know and have seen, Leandro Bacuna seems a tidy player.
Other than those and a couple of beanpole strikers who don't play it seems you are largely trying to operate with the same group that struggled last season. Which is probably part of the problem!
12) If you could take one of our players, who would it be and why?
Benteke is the obvious one of course and his power up front would give us an extra dimension should we ever need it. Elsewhere, I've always felt Fabian Delph was a talented player although his discipline and consistency are an issue.
13) Who do you see as our main threat in the game?
Main threat or only threat? If the Benteke of last season, the one who was integral to your surprise 3-1 win at Anfield, turns up then he will be a handful. Other than that I don't see much to worry about except perhaps the pace of Gabby Agbonlahor.
14) Where would you say our current weaknesses are in terms of how you will approach the match?
Defensively your record isn't too bad and you've only lost once in your past four visits to L4 but the way we are playing right now means we don't need to worry too much about the opposition's strengths and weaknesses.
The likes of Suarez and Daniel Sturridge will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Villa and it is very likely we will score on at least a couple of occasions.
Therefore the question is can you do likewise?
15) Finally, a prediction please kind person...
We've won our last eight home games on the spin (including the cup match against Oldham) and each time the margin of victory has been at least two goals. In total we've netted 27 times in our nine home league victories this season at an average of three a game, scoring five times once and four times on three occasions.
Considering all that, a 3-1 home win seems an informed prediction.
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Date:Friday January 17 2014
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Lambert Keeps His Belief In The Players (Tuesday March 4 2014)
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|13. Hull City||28||8||6||14||-5||30|
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