Liverpool – Aston Villa Preview: Balotelli set for Anfield bow

The mercurial Italian could well lead the line alone in the absence of Daniel Sturridge, who sustained a thigh injury on England duty and is out of action for three weeks

Mario Balotelli is in line to make his Anfield debut when Liverpool take on Aston Villa on Saturday.

The Italian – signed from AC Milan for £16 million last month – could even lead the line alone for Brendan Rodgers’ side in the absence of Daniel Sturridge, who suffered a thigh injury on England duty and is expected to be out of action for three weeks.

With Martin Skrtel (knock), Glen Johnson, Jon Flanagan (both thigh) and Emre Can (ankle) also on Liverpool’s growing injury list, Aston Villa may well benefit from the timing of their visit to a ground where they are unbeaten in their last three matches.

Paul Lambert’s men have picked up seven points from their first three Premier League matches this season, conceding only one goal in the process, and Rodgers insists he will not be taking Saturday’s opponents lightly.

“They’ve started well,” the Reds boss told reporters. “I’m pleased for Paul because he’s gone in and looked to bring in young players.

“The first season was difficult but now they’ve done well. It’s been a tough game for us in the last couple of years.”

One man with a particular point to prove on the Villa side may well be Aly Cissokho, who spent last season on loan at Liverpool without distinction.

“Of course, when you play against your last team it is a special occasion,” he told Villa’s official website. “It should be a big atmosphere and it is going to be good to face my old team-mates.

“I hope we are going to keep going like we have been over the past few weeks and continue our good form. This year we have started well. We are confident. We haven’t lost any games yet.

“We are focused in our work. We just need to do what we have done in the last three league games and be strong defensively. It is going to be a good occasion.

“It would be good to keep that success going.”

On-loan Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley could also make his Villa debut and Lambert will be hoping captain Ron Vlaar (calf) is passed fit.

Villa were also buoyed this week by Gabriel Agbonlahor’s decision to sign a new four-year contract, and fans will be on tenterhooks to see if Christian Benteke’s ongoing return to fitness results in a spot in the matchday squad.

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