Second string sides to serve up a spectacle
High-flying Aston Villa and current champions Liverpool have a shared distraction in form of the third round of the FA Cup to contest on Friday evening in Birmingham. It's likely that both managers will ring the changes from their all-too recent league exploits, which will allow fringe players to impress and more key figures minutes to regain match fitness on their roads to recovery. As a consequence, it should be a competitive game played at a quick pace... and that means goals. Read our preview here:
That's a Traoré!
Villains manager Dean Smith can take huge heart from his side's performance in the narrow 2-1 defeat at Old Trafford. Far from cowed by a resurgent Manchester United in their own backyard, the match should instead serve as a barometer for how far they've come in six months. Whilst it would be churlish to expect anything like a repeat of the remarkable 7-2 annihilation of Liverpool to repeat itself ever again, they will go toe-to-toe with more vaunted opposition once again. The likes of Jack Grealish, Ollie Watkins, and Ross Barkley will almost certainly be rested, which should free up space for Burkina Faso right-sided forward Bertrand Traoré to figure more prominently. Whilst the 25 year-old has featured regularly in the last month, his eye-catching and productive displays have rarely grabbed the headlines. Whether he'll come up against Andy Robertson is anyone's guess, but either way, he'll be at the heart of most of Villa's work in the final third.
Takumi's sun must rise
Jürgen Klopp must continue to contend with a slew of absences, most notably in defence. Despite this, he's adamant that no additional centre-back will be signed in the January transfer window; instead, he'll continue to put his faith in Fabinho coping admirably out of position, who will possibly be partnered by Nat Phillips on Friday. Elsewhere, there's little need to start his favoured front three, which will hand starts to Divock Origi, Takumi Minamino, and possibly Xherdan Shaqiri. The versatile Japanese forward will likely play as a false nine in the middle of the trio, and will need to convince his head coach and the Anfield faithful of his credentials. It's been a relatively slow start to his career in red, which is now a year old, having gone from the main focus at perennial Austrian champions RB Salzburg to bit-part player at Liverpool. His playing style is markedly different from anyone else at the club, and he needs to start making more of the scant opportunities he receives.
The winners are the losers?
With threats of suspending elite football looming because of the ongoing (and worsening) pandemic in England, both sets of coaching staff would be forgiven for wanting an early exit from the oldest cup competition in the world, especially Liverpool. The packed schedule leaves no room for replays or rescheduling, and the incentives are just not there for a prolonged tilt. That obviously won't prevent either them or Villa doing their best to win the tie, but don't be too surprised if there's a wave or sigh of relief in the losing camp after the game. betway are offering odds of 1.90 for both teams to score and over 2.5 goals in the process, which looks nailed on.