Liverpool vs Aston Villa: Will Jurgen Klopp's unpredictable side boost their Premier League top-four hopes at Anfield?

From thrashing Arsenal to being humbled by injury-hit Real Madrid, the past week has summed up Liverpool's inconsistency. We discuss their issues on the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast. Watch Liverpool vs Aston Villa live on Sky Sports Premier League from 2.30pm on Saturday; kick-off 3pm

Liverpool

Liverpool looked to be back to their best against Arsenal last weekend but defeat to Real Madrid raises more questions ahead of their Premier League clash with Aston Villa.

Jurgen Klopp's side moved to within two points of the top four with an impressive 3-0 win at the Emirates on their return to action from the international break, with pundits purring over their return to form.

But Liverpool were hit with a reality check on Tuesday evening when Real Madrid - despite missing several key players through injury - stormed to a 3-1 win in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final.

Inconsistency has been an issue throughout Liverpool's season so will they be able to get back on track when they aim to step up that top-four charge when they host Villa live on Sky Sports on Saturday afternoon?

Sky Sports features writer Nick Wright joined the Pitch to Post Preview Podcast to assess the situation…

Listen to the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox

The Arsenal-Real Madrid swing typical of Liverpool's season

"Maybe it says most of all about Arsenal's level! It was obviously hugely disappointing for Liverpool but really typical of their season.

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"A team that was so consistent, so relentlessly high-performing is veering between extremes now - brilliant against Arsenal and just so far below the standards you expect from them a few days later against Real Madrid. They still haven't strung four wins together since October which underlines the inconsistency.

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"Every time it looks like they've turned a corner - and it did look like that against Arsenal - they just reverse back around the corner.

"A Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid is going to be a tough proposition for any side but this isn't a great Real Madrid side by any means and they were weakened by injuries - and that adds to the disappointment of what we saw on Tuesday from Liverpool's perspective."

Real targeted Alexander-Arnold

Real Madrid targeted Trent Alexander-Arnold's flank
Image: Real Madrid targeted Trent Alexander-Arnold's flank

"I'm still of a view Trent Alexander-Arnold should be going to the Euros but whether I'd start him in a big game, I'm less sure of that. I think the Real Madrid game was a perfect illustration of why Gareth Southgate doesn't fully trust him.

"The error for the second goal was the main talking point but Real Madrid targeted that side of the pitch all night. I remember Ferland Mendy breezing past him in the opening 10 minutes and almost setting up a goal.

"They're not the first side to do that this season, opponents are seeing defensive weaknesses there and it's all emphasised by Virgil van Dijk's absence next to him, he really misses that presence behind him and next to him. Van Dijk's pace to cover and everything like that has left Alexander-Arnold exposed and Southgate is worried about a similar thing happening at the Euros.

"Would Real Madrid have targeted that side of the pitch if it was Kyle Walker there? I'm not sure they would.

Trent Alexander-Arnold had a tough night up against Ferland Mendy
Image: Trent Alexander-Arnold had a tough night up against Ferland Mendy

"Alexander-Arnold still goes because of the quality he brings and his delivery is exceptional, as we saw against Arsenal and as we've seen so many times, but I can understand Southgate's hesitancy because to go far at one of these big international tournaments defensive solidity is absolutely vital and right now you can't look at his performances and say he's offering that."

Grealish would have been a real threat down Alexander-Arnold's side - Villa badly miss him

"Grealish is Aston Villa's top chance creator this season. He's also made the most dribbles in that team, he's won the most fouls, he's second only to Ollie Watkins for shots and touches in the opposition box. Villa have a 52 per cent win rate with him starting and just a 30 per cent win rate without him. Clearly he's absolutely crucial to the way they play.

"And in addition to all those technical qualities he gives them there's his leadership and his bravery, bravery in a sense he always wants the ball, wants to make things happen, and that sounds pretty basic but there aren't that many players like that, players ready to take responsibility and try to make the difference. Players like that are rare and you notice the difference when they're not there and that's obviously been the case for Villa without Grealish.

"We should point out they're not a one-man team - you think of the impact Watkins has made, Bertrand Traore has been really impressive, and defensively there have been some excellent performances. But when you have someone like Grealish in a mid-ranking team in the Premier League he's bound to be crucial because he gives you things your other players can't really replicate. The sooner they can get him back the better."

Liverpool have the tools to avenge 7-2 defeat - but who can predict what they'll do?

"Maybe the fact Liverpool were so bad against Madrid means they'll be brilliant against Aston Villa?! If that's the way their season is going maybe that's the way to predict a Liverpool game now, given how inconsistent they are!

"Mohamed Salah scoring again is encouraging and a reminder of how dangerous they are in that area of the pitch, he's still scoring even through good and bad performances.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Aston Villa's win over Liverpool in the Premier League

"They're more than capable of blowing Villa away but we've already seen Villa beat them 7-2 this season. It's been a bizarre season for everyone but most of all for Liverpool. Their inconsistencies have been remarkable and it makes it really difficult to predict what's going to happen from one game to the next.

"How can anyone confidently predict what Liverpool are going to produce right now?

"I think Liverpool have at least given themselves a bit of a boost with that second-half performance in Madrid, so they'll be hoping to pick up from that rather than the first-half performance but it's going to be a difficult game for them.

"I think we'll see goals from both sides - but it's tough to predict."

Pitch to Post Preview: Tottenham vs Man Utd and a decisive month for Spurs; Inconsistent Liverpool, and West Ham vs Leicester's key top-four clash

In this week's Pitch to Post Preview Podcast Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports News reporter Paul Gilmour who explains why April could be a decisive month for Tottenham's next steps as a club, while Sky Sports football writer Jack Wilkinson reacts to Man Utd's Europa League win and assesses their chances of getting some revenge for their big defeat to Spurs earlier this season.

Sky Sports features writer Nick Wright is also on the show, looking back at two contrasting performances from Liverpool and the reasons behind their inconsistency, as well as previewing a big top-four race clash between surprise package West Ham and Leicester. He also makes his Pitch for the weekend about an important game at the other end of the table between Burnley and Newcastle.

Listen to the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Podcast on: Spotify | Apple | Castbox

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