Aston Villa vs Liverpool
This is maybe the weekend's most interesting Premier League game (at least until Man United vs Chelsea on Monday night) as we get to take a look at a seemingly much improved Aston Villa side who take on the still Suarez-less Liverpool who for all their good play last week still only beat Stoke thanks to a late penalty save.
(Gabriel Agbonlahor finished 2012-13 in fine form & has continued so far this season)
Paul Lambert seems to be getting the best out of his squad of young players at the moment, particularly the forwards Christian Benteke & Gabby Agbonlahor with the lifelong Villa man looking unplayable at times with his pace & power in their opening two games against Arsenal & Chelsea. The ever-promising Fabian Delph may also be ready to deliver this season judged on the start he's made & whilst there remain issues with regards to Villa's sturdiness they look like they have the potential to give any side a game of it at the moment.
Liverpool finished off last season in pretty hot form (7 wins, 4 draws & a loss in their final 12) but by then it meant little in terms of what they could achieve in the league & it remains to be seen whether they can put that kind of form together over a whole season in order to claim a Champions League spot. Brendan Rodgers would surely be happy so long as they don't drop too many points whilst without their star striker Luis Suarez, out of action because of his ban & he's got his side a tricky contest here. Liverpool's main area of weakness for us is their lack of width in midfield with the fullbacks Johnson & Enriquez having to provide nearly all of that especially now that Stewart Downing has departed. Downing was considered a flop at the club but only Steven Gerrard started more games than him last season & it's not an ideal problem to have against Villa in particular.
(Brendan 'Envelope' Rodgers may find it hard to gain a victory away from the Anfield faithful)
Villa tended to struggle with balls into the box from out wide last year, including corners, so it's an ideal avenue to attack for most teams but with Weiman & Agbonlahor in advanced positions they should be able to defend from the front & keep Liverpool's fullbacks a bit quieter. Of course Liverpool are still dangerous with the classy operator Couinho & Gerrard, still capable of the spectacular, in midfield but Villa should be able to put men in against them & their defence will be happier to see the ball in front of them - they were relatively comfortable for long periods against a similar approach from Chelsea in the 2nd half on Wednesday.
Benteke is already on fire & his signing of a new contract looks the best bit of business done by a Premier League club this summer, with the young Belgian firing Villa have every chance of getting all 3 points here & with SportingBet & Paddy Power offering odds of 15/8 with the extra insurance of draw no bet this selection has to be advised. The fact Villa had to play in midweek is of course taken into account but at this stage of the season their players should be able to handle the quick turnaround & the extra football may come in handy whilst other teams try to shake off the pre-season rustiness.
Rotherham United vs Shrewsbury Town
In League One we see newly promoted Rotherham playing host to Shrewsbury in a clash that could be well be heavily influenced by the crucial home advantage. Shrewsbury ranked 20th in League One last season for points gained on the road whilst Rotherham ranked 4th at home in League Two & have started the season very respectably indeed.
(Rotherham's bruising centre forward Alex Revell could cause problems here)
Both teams gained their first wins of the season last week with Rotherham's 2-1 defeat of manager Steve Evans' former club Crawley particularly sweet for The Millers & that means Rotherham remain unbeaten thanks to a good draw with fancied Preston & two late goals away to Crewe salvaging a 3-3 draw & showing their battling qualities & good fitness levels to keep going to the end. Shrewsbury just don't seem to have many goals in their side, they didn't find the net in their first two games & their top scorer last season Marvin Morgan bagged just 7 goals with their number 9 Tom Bradshaw scoring his first goal in two years in their win against Swindon. We've already noted that Swindon appear to be a club in a bit of turmoil so we're not too impressed with that win & we reckon Graham Turner will be setting his team up not to lose rather than be proactive & aim for 3 points in this one.
Rotherham haven't looked bereft of ideas in attack so far this year & it's possible that their Irish midfielder Lee Frecklin could keep up his decent scoring record & the 6"3 forward Alex Revell poses a problem for most opposition defences & can link up well with either Nardiello or Agard. With the odds on offer at Evens with BetVictor (they're odds on everywhere else) Rotherham look worthy of a decent punt here to gain another victory in their push for successive promotions.
Aston Villa to beat Liverpool draw no bet at 15/8 (Paddy Power & SportingBet)
Rotherham to beat Shrewsbury at Evens (BetVictor)