Last season, Liverpool endured a dreadful start under Brendan Rodgers as it took them their first 7 games to amass 6 points. In stark contrast, they’ve reached that tally in their opening 2 games this season albeit with narrow 1-0 wins against Stoke City and Aston Villa. While they may have deserved to score a few more against The Potters, the score-line was disappointingly apt last night at Villa Park but there was also plenty to be upbeat about.
In what’s becoming a trend for Villa, they started slow and looked off the pace like they did against Arsenal and Chelsea which led them to concede the first goal yet again. Liverpool have grown into a team that thrives on possession under Rodgers and took full advantage of a rather flat looking Villa side in the opening period of the game.
Philippe Coutinho, Jordan Henderson and Daniel Sturridge linked up brilliantly early on and it was the striker who put the Reds ahead with some neat footwork and a good finish in the 21st minute. It was Sturridge’s 8th goal in 7 games in the absence of Luis Suarez which speaks volumes of the depth the side can now boast.
Sturridge continues his fine form
Coutinho’s dummy to allow the ball to roll through to the Englishman was a perfect example of his ingenuity which came to the fore time and again in the first half as he regularly attempted to play in his colleagues.
However, the visitors failed to push on from there and didn’t create enough clear cut chances before the half-time whistle and were fortunate not to go in level after Christian Benteke’s effort forced Simon Mignolet into action as he dived to his left to push the shot behind. The Belgian keeper continued his impressive start to life as a Liverpool player.
The problem for Liverpool was that Villa continued to grow stronger as the match went on like they did in their opening two fixtures and that’s exactly what the second half was all about. The hosts began to enjoy better spells of possession and created a couple of good chances, one of which saw Benteke bringing the best out of Mignolet again, while their opponents seemed to have left their attacking instincts in the changing room.
Benteke had Villa's best chances
Liverpool were made to dig in and grind out a victory and while some will question their inability to kill the game off, Rodgers will take heart in the fact that his side weathered the storm and walked away with the points. The fact is that his players were right to give a dangerous Villa side the respect they deserve.
The Villans were in the ascendency in the second half and especially towards the end of the game. Liverpool could have persisted to push forward but fortunately cooler heads prevailed. Their opponents had already comeback hard in games against Arsenal and Chelsea but did so through quick counter-attacks.
By staying organized and riding out the Villa onslaught, they forced them to try and maneuver openings rather than affording them the opportunity to hit them swiftly on the break, which would have been right up their alley. Kolo Toure in particular did brilliantly to use his experience to keep tabs on Benteke and marshaled the rest of the back-line expertly. His free transfer is starting to look like a shrewd bit of business on Rodgers’ part.
Toure kept the big Belgian in check
Last season Liverpool may have left themselves open and vulnerable in a similar situation but are now looking like a side that can adapt primarily because they have had a season to get acquainted with each other in a new system that they now seem assured in. Everyone knows what their jobs are and they know what their manager wants from them.
At the start of the previous campaign, the Merseysiders were groping about in the dark as they stumbled through the process of implementing a new philosophy and style of play under Rodgers. However their struggles then are starting to pay dividends. It took some time but they look comfortable in a system that they’ve now made their own.
Reds look comfortable in their system
From Villa’s point of view, Paul Lambert can be very pleased with his troops. It’s been a tough opening week for them in which they played thrice with nearly identical line-ups. An away win against Arsenal was quickly followed by a midweek defeat at Stamford Bridge, where they perhaps deserved to salvage a point at the very least, before they gave a good account of themselves in their first home game.Liverpool will eventually score more goals but should be proud of their win on Saturday night, the kind of win you have to pick up every now and then to be in the mix for a Champions League spot. The league has only just begun though and sterner tests await the Reds, the first of which will be against Manchester United next week.
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