Liverpool host Aston Villa in their first home fixture as 2019/20 Premier League champions on Sunday afternoon, with the visitors starting a tricky run of games in their bid to survive.
The Reds' first game as champions ended in disaster as they lost 4-0 against last year's champions Manchester City. Aston Villa head to Anfield with more incentive than ever; they sit joint-second bottom on 27 points - the same as 19th-placed Bournemouth - but a win would see them move out of the relegation zone, should other results go their way.
While Liverpool have nothing left to play for in the Premier League except a points record, they will be out to prove something against Villa. Defeat in their first game as champions will leave a bad taste in their mouth and Jurgen Klopp will undoubtedly want to avoid any more blemishes tainting what has been a spectacular season thus far.
For Liverpool, victory would see them finish the weekend on 89 points, edging them closer to a Premier League record points tally. Last season, they had acquired 82 points by the end of gameweek 33, meaning they could well achieve the record this year.
Where to Watch
When is Kick-Off? Sunday 5 July
What Time is Kick-Off? 16:30 (BST)
Where is it Played? Anfield
TV Channel/Live Stream? Sky Sports Main Event
Referee? Paul Tierney
Speaking to the press in his pre-match press conference ahead of this weekend's fixture, Klopp played down ideas of playing a youthful side at the weekend and reaffirmed the importance of playing his strongest team possible.
Klopp on youngsters: "These questions won't be asked to Frank Lampard or Ole. We want to win football games and the best players need to be on the pitch and they are part of that. They are the future but we won't play them now. PL games are not Christmas presents."— Paul Gorst (@ptgorst) July 3, 2020
Liverpool are without Joel Matip for the remainder of the season, after he sustained a foot injury in the Merseyside derby. Xherdan Shaqiri is also injured, but there are no new concerns following the defeat on Thursday evening, however, meaning there is room to freshen up the XI in some areas.
Villa will be without Matt Targett who suffered a hamstring injury against Wolves, while Bjorn Engels also remains unavailable with an Achilles problem.
Right back Frederic Guilbert is back in contention and could make the match day squad for the first time this season following a knee injury. Danny Drinkwater is also available, having made the bench against Wolves.
Goalkeeper Orjan Nyland is available, but has come under fire for poor performances and could be dropped in favour of former Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina.
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Williams; Henderson, Fabinho, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Minamino.
Aston Villa: Reina; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; Luiz, McGinn, Hourihane; El Ghazi, Grealish, Samatta.
Liverpool fans won't want to think about Thursday's performance against City. It was perhaps the worst the Reds have looked this season, but it doesn't do justice to just how good they've been for the rest of the campaign.
Whether it was a champions performance or not, Liverpool's form before the defeat in Manchester was still impressive. Their first match in three months was a Merseyside derby that ended in a draw, but they picked up the pace once more when they thrashed Crystal Palace afterwards.
Villa's form has to pick up if they stand any chance of surviving the threat of relegation. Their last league victory came on New Year's Day, and they've managed two draws and two losses since the restart. Failure to defeat Newcastle despite salvaging a point was disappointing and was perhaps Smith's best chance at getting a win, considering his side now have to face the likes of Liverpool, Everton and Manchester United before the end of the season.
Villa did actually manage a victory over Liverpool earlier in the season, however it wasn't as spectacular as it sounds initially. They knocked Liverpool's youth team out of the Carabao Cup in December 2019, with the first team pre-occupied with the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar.
Here's each side's last five results:
Manchester City 4-0 Liverpool (02/07/20)
Liverpool 4-0 Crystal Palace (24/06/20)
Liverpool 0-0 Everton (21/06/20)
Liverpool 2-3 Atletico Madrid (11/03/20)
Liverpool 2-1 Bournemouth (07/03/20)
Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves (27/06/20)
Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa (24/06/20)
Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea (21/06/20)
Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United (17/06/20)
Leicester 4-0 Aston Villa (09/03/20)
Despite their slip up against Manchester City in the midweek, there will be no repeat of the mistakes from Liverpool in this one.
Klopp's side will likely have been given the hairdryer treatment as a result of the last defeat, and will be out to avenge it by using relegation-threatened Aston Villa as an example.
Aston Villa, meanwhile, look exhausted. Failing to show any signs of a winning mentality, their backs are already against the wall and it's only going to get worse from here. They'll likely be up for it initially, but a defeat here could relegate a lot of the players mentally.
Dean Smith needs a result, but he's unlikely to get one.
Prediction: Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa
Source : 90min