It is often said that great teams are able to win without playing their best. The same could be said for Liverpool today, who were forced to showcase their defensive capabilities rather than their strength in attack on many occasions. Sturridge’s well taken goal secured a 1-0 win on an overcast afternoon at Villa Park, where they were forced to abandon their favoured passing style in order to preserve a slender lead throughout.
Brendan Rodgers was aiming to continue the form shown in his side’s 1-0 victory over Stoke on the opening day, while Paul Lambert’s men had been buoyed by a 3-1 victory at the Emirates, and a spirited performance away to Chelsea. Rodgers named an unchanged starting XI, with Alberto and Cissokho in line for debuts from the bench. Lambert made two changes from the side that lost 2-1 at Stamford Bridge, giving full debuts to defender Jonas Okore and midfielder Leonardo Bacuna. Last season, a Steven Gerrard penalty gave the visitors all three points at Villa Park, and avenged a shock 3-1 defeat at home to the Villains back in December. Liverpool are hoping to win their first two matches of the season for the first time since the 2008-09 season, where Benitez led the Reds to a 2nd place finish.
In-form winger Gabby Agbonlahor looked lively from the first minute, his run down the left hand side closed down well by Kolo Toure. Liverpool quickly settled into the game, and dominated possession early on. The away side’s first big opportunity came after ten minutes. Jose Enrique hit a long ball up to Daniel Sturridge, who the ball down to Jordan Henderson with apparent ease. Henderson opted to pass back to the striker, but Sturridge knocked his shot wide. Soon after, Kolo Toure played an excellent ball forward to Sturridge, who took too long in attempting the shot. Enrique won the ball back, and crossed to Henderson, who failed to make a decent connection with the header. Villa cleared the ball, and Agger had to be alert to win the aerial duel with Weimann and head back to Mignolet. Enrique continued to be a threat down the left hand side, and a brilliant run from the left back resulted in a chance for Philippe Coutinho, whose curling shot failed to hit the target.
Liverpool’s dominance finally resulted in a goal after 20 minutes. After an impressive attacking build-up, Enrique hit a cross, and Continho’s dummy allowed the ball to find its way through to Sturridge. Sturridge’s nimble footwork got him past two Villa defenders, and then around Guzman. Okore and Luna were on the line to try and clear it, but Sturridge’s shot was just about high enough to result in a goal. Liverpool continued their good play, with Sturridge, Coutinho and Henderson all fashioning good chances. Benteke made very little impact early on, but after half an hour, he finally had a chance to show why he is so highly rated. The Belgian tried to create a chance for Agbonlahor with a back heel in the box, but it was cut out well by the Liverpool defence. Aston Villa gradually threatened more in the half, and Bacuna’s bursting run into the box was only cut out by a well timed sliding tackle from Kolo Toure. From the resulting corner, Mignolet was finally called into action, making a great reflex save to deny Benteke his fourth goal of the season. Weimann also had a chance to equalise, but his shot was deflected over by Agger. The final chance of the half came from Ron Vlaar, who headed his shot wide from a Villa free kick.
Aston Villa continued their threatening play after half time, with Lowton and Weimann combining well on the right. Sturridge won a corner for Liverpool on the counter attack, but it resulted in a collision between Agger and Guzan, where thankfully neither were hurt. Minutes later, Villa had another chance, this time coming from Ashley Westwood. Bacuna’s free kick hit the wall, and came back to Matt Lowton. Lowton found midfielder Westwood, who hit his shot over the bar. Liverpool found Villa hard to contain, and struggled to play their usual slick passing style in the second half. While the Birmingham side struggled to test Mignolet, Agger and Toure were forced into action on many occasions, the latter producing a really assured performance throughout. New loan signing Aly Cissokho came on for Iago Aspas after 67 minutes, to try and secure the win. The Frenchman was deployed on the left side of midfield, as opposed to his usual left back position. Benteke and Agbonlahor both missed glorious opportunities to score, with Benteke’s header drifting wide of the post, and Agbonlahor’s shot suffering a similar fate.
With the game going into the last 15 minutes, Villa kept surging forward. New signing Aleksandar Tonev powered a shot from distance which Mignolet managed to catch safely, but the Belgian made a dangerous mistake moments later, when he failed to control Agger’s pass back and deflected it out for a corner. Lambert’s final throw of the dice was to bring on another striker, Niklaus Helenius to try and rescue the contest. Minutes after this substitution, Helenius almost made a big contribution to the outcome of the back, heading Benteke through on goal. Mignolet stood firm again though, making a flying save to deny his Belgian teammate his fourth goal in three games against Liverpool. In the 90th minute, Clattenburg denied Sturridge what looked like a stonewall penalty, after he was brought down by Guzan. Despite this questionable decision, Liverpool held firm for their second win of the season.