There is nothing like FA Cup third round weekend in the English football calendar, and it is fair to assume that Aston Villa and Liverpool, two of the country's best sides over the first few months of the season, will bring the curtain up in style on Friday night.
The game will go ahead albeit in what is likely to be unusual fashion with Villa expected to field a youth team after several COVID-19 cases in their first team forced the closure of their Bodymoor Heath training ground. Confirmation that the third round tie would take place only came early on Friday morning.
Get set for this weekend's action with the latest episode of Que Golazo!, CBS Sports' daily soccer podcast. Listen below:
Both sides come into it after defeats in the Premier League, Villa were at least able to take heart from the nature of their 2-1 reversal to Manchester United, one where they more than held their own against a side that could yet emerge as a title contender. Liverpool's 1-0 loss to Southampton brought far fewer silver linings, continuing a worrying trend of difficulties on the road as Jurgen Klopp looks to add his first FA Cup to an Anfield trophy cabinet that has bulged ever larger since his appointment.
Here is how you can watch the game and what you need to know:
- Date: Friday, Jan. 6
- Time: 2:45 p.m. ET
- Location: Villa Park -- Birmingham, United Kingdom
- TV and live stream: ESPN+
- Odds: Aston Villa +230; Draw +270; Liverpool +105 (via William Hill Sportsbook)
Aston Villa: Another meeting with Liverpool inevitably brings to mind the stunning 7-2 hammering Dean Smith's side inflicted on the champions earlier this season. Everyone involved in the match would inevitably agree that trying to repeat that performance would be like catching lightning in a bottle but Villa will certainly be keen to apply the lessons they learned back on that remarkable Sunday night in October.
On that occasion Villa exploited the combination of Liverpool's hesitant press and high line. The latter is not quite as prevalent without Joe Gomez and Virgil van Dijk but expect the likes of John McGinn and Douglas Luiz to look for quick ball over the top to release Ollie Watkins, Jack Grealish and Anwar El Ghazi. That is, of course, assuming such senior players start but if this team, firmly ensconced in upper mid-table, don't take the FA Cup seriously what hope others do?
Liverpool: It has been an issue for some time but Monday's defeat at Southampton served as a further reminder that Liverpool are struggling when they take to the road. Their last eight away games in all competitions have brought five draws to go with two wins and a defeat whilst the thumping nature of those two (5-0 at Atalanta and 7-0 at Crystal Palace) might suggest they were aberrations brought on by the failings of their opponents.
Certainly at St Mary's there was no sense Klopp's side might rack up a healthy goal tally as they labored their way to just one shot on target. With nine games off between the cup tie and their home game against Manchester United there is heavy reason to name a strong XI to put a stop to the rot on the road.
Perhaps the toughest of all the FA Cup ties to call but it is evident that there is something wrong with Liverpool's away form that has been the case throughout the season. Smith's side have already punished them once at Villa Park, why not again? PICK: Aston Villa (+230)