Reds v Villa: Hendo and Kuyt start, Agger back on the bench

Fans might claim to be embarrassed by Liverpool’s recent form but supporters are more likely to be unhappy and thinking of whatever ways they can to help get behind the team and bring about a return to winning ways. Liverpool play host to Aston Villa today and Kenny Dalglish has made a number of changes to the side that lost 2-0 away to Newcastle last week.

The difference between ‘fans’ and ‘supporters’ was highlighted by a man that just about all of Liverpool’s followers were glad to see go. Roy Hodgson had been put forward for the England job by the Liverpool crowd, a sarcastic way of asking for The FA to take him off the club’s hands after a half season where he’d publicly criticised some of the club’s best players (what was left of them), employed hoof and hope tactics, dropped far too many points, gone out of cups at first stages and lowered expectations to the point where he seemed to be hoping the end of season celebrations would be for having avoided relegation.

Roy was unlucky in some ways, perhaps the first mistake he made being the one where he believed the hype from the owners and back pages about how Liverpool supporters really felt about Rafael Benitez. The hardcore who wanted Rafa out even when he was leading the club to a second-placed finish (only the second time the club has managed it since Graeme Souness resigned) were happy to see Roy get the job – after all, their mantra was pretty much “anyone would be better than Benitez”. But fans who’d decided for different reasons that the relationship between Benitez and the boardroom was too damaged for it to work weren’t expecting a downgrade and it was up to Roy to prove he wasn’t. Even those who were against the departure of Rafa accepted that he had to be given a chance.

All Roy had to do was show he was doing his best, that he cared, that he wanted the support of those fans. Instead he gave the impression of someone expecting to lose most games, not caring if he did, not interested in how the fans felt. Why that was the case no longer matters, he’s gone, but we need to remember those differences before we succumb to the views of the kind of Liverpool fan who thinks its okay to call Kenny Dalglish a “c***”.

Every time Kenny has been linked with a return to the club in any capacity he’s made it clear that he’s there to do his best for the club, to help it in any way he can, to stay until he’s no longer needed. If Kenny thought the job was beyond him, that the critics had a point, he’d step down quietly.

There was a time when the atmosphere at Anfield was such that any benefit of the doubt an official could give would go Liverpool’s way. The Kop would claim for every corner, every throw-in, every hint of a penalty. It wasn’t a conscious effort to cheat, it wasn’t a subconscious instinct to be 100% behind every single player in a red shirt and the men peeping out of the dugout.

Nowadays there are far too many fans who think it’s more helpful to the team to scream abuse at the players from their expensive seats at the ground, usually punctuated with rounded-up versions of the transfer fee reportedly paid for that player.

The kind of fan who used to shout help to his team’s players is harder to find now. The help might have been misguided but it always came from people with their hearts in the right place. New players, or players drafted in during times injury problems, would be encouraged, not screamed at for failing to be Lionel Messi.

Liverpool’s league season isn’t that important now, but winning today is. It’s more important than it should be, but nowhere near as important as the hysterical elements of the support are making it out to be.

Pepe Reina is out for three games meaning Brad Jones is back in the squad but it’s Alexander Doni who starts, making his first competitive appearance for the Reds since signing last summer.

Injuries in defence include Martin Kelly and Glen Johnson but there’s the welcome sight of Daniel Agger amongst the subs. Today’s back four is the same as last week’s.

Bellamy and Carroll are back on the bench, Jay Spearing also drops out of the starting line-up, with Henderson and Downing likely to play out wide of a midfield including Steven Gerrard and Jonjo Shelvey.

Kuyt and Suarez are up front.

The Villa side includes two former Reds – Stephen Warnock and Emile Heskey. Villa fans will also be paying tribute to their captain, Stiliyan Petrov, at the nineteen minute mark and have asked Liverpool fans to do the same.

Liverpool: Doni, Flanagan, Carra, Skrtel, Enrique, Henderson, Shelvey, Gerrard, Downing, Suarez, Kuyt.
Subs: Jones, Agger, Coates, Maxi, Spearing, Bellamy, Carroll.

Aston Villa: Given, Hutton, Warnock, Collins, Baker, Ireland, Bannan, Lichaj, Herd, Agbonlahor, Heskey.
Subs: Guzan, Stevens, Williams, Johnson, Gardner, Carruthers, Weimann.

The game is being shown live on TV in Ireland on Setanta. In the US it’s being shown online on FoxSoccer.TV. In the UK the game isn’t being shown live.

To watch the game live in the UK (and anywhere else it isn’t on live) you need a Fox Soccer To Go subscription with a US IP address – you can get a US IP address here.