1) New boys need more time to settle in
On a day when both Sturridge and Sterling were both absent from the starting line-up, much of the pre-match buildup talk circulated around Liverpool’s new look attacking front: Mario Balotelli, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic. Much was expected of this trio, who have cost the Reds around £60 million in transfer fees this summer, but against an organized Aston Villa yesterday, all three did not quite fully impress while ultimately failing to break down the visitors’ resolute defence. Lallana had looked impressive at certain points of the game, with his clever runs into the box and the centre of the pitch as he linked up pretty well with Henderson and Coutinho. However the former Saints man had looked frustrated whenever he did not see much of the ball and picked up an early booking for a rash challenge.
Markovic on the other flank looked lively in the opening half, making several decent runs down his flank and into the box while seeing an early volley rise over the bar and a header going just over. As for Balotelli, the former Manchester City man was largely anonymous throughout his 71 minutes on the pitch, with the Villains starving him of supply and space. A dipping shot from the edge of the box which looked destined for the top corner had it not taken a deflection off a Villa defender in the first half was perhaps the Italian’s highlight of the game. It’s still early days for Liverpool this season, but it is clear that the new signings will be needing some time to fully settle into a Liverpool side who are still recovering from the loss of Luis Suarez.
2) Liverpool’s defensive problems looks largely unsolved
Liverpool’s title push last season was arguably hampered in the end by their defensive problems, as seen in the heartbreaking 3-3 draw with Palace last season, when the Reds somehow let a 3-0 lead slip through their fingers in a matter of minutes. Rodgers had certainly looked to fix those problems in the summer, by bringing in Dejan Lovren from Southampton in a massive deal and signing Spanish duo Manquillo (loan) and Moreno.
However, it was similar defensive issues that arose again yesterday, with Villa scoring after nine minutes from a corner which Liverpool could have dealt with better. Senderos had saw his header from the corner blocked but not cleared, and a resulting scramble in the box ended up with Agbonlahor squeezing a shot past Mignolet and into the net. In fact, Villa had the right to be upset at not going two up when Senderos failed to divert a header into the net when he was somehow left totally unmarked to rise high and make good contact with a Westwood free-kick.
While there was the unstoppable Suarez and Sturridge last season whose goals were always there to bail out the backline’s mistakes, at Anfield yesterday there was no bail out for the poor defending against Villa’s set pieces.
3) Liverpool seem to struggle against deep lying sides
It isn’t the first time Liverpool have found themselves beaten by a team that lay deep after going ahead. Last season against Chelsea at Anfield, the Reds struggled to break down a Chelsea side that had decided to “park the bus” after capitalizing on a rare Gerrard error in the first half. Similar to yesterday’s second half of the game, Liverpool raised their overall performance and dominated possession in the second half but ultimately failed to find the cutting edge in the last third of the pitch.
With sides now recognizing the Reds’ for their fast-paced attacking style, more and more sides may in turn decide to sit deep whenever they visit Anfield and Liverpool will need to find an alternative to breaking down these deep-lying sides.
It’s not often we’ve seen games like that under Brendan Rodgers. Games where we completely failed to create any notable chances, failed to penetrate and pose any sort of threat to the opposition. Games where our attack lacked pace, tempo, urgency, or incisiveness. At Anfield especially, we’re used to seeing Liverpool fly out of the blocks and be at the opposition from the off. And goals were pretty much guaranteed.
But let’s not pretend things haven’t changed from last season, because they have. We are now without one of the world’s best players, and started the game yesterday with six new signings on the pitch; three of them making their home debuts. We couldn’t expect them to instantly click and form devastating combinations. But we could certainly expect to see more than what we did yesterday.
For what it was worth, Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic did show some individual moments of their footballing talent. Mario Balotelli up front was quiet, but was feeding off scraps and kept drifting out wide to find the smallest patch of space. Philippe Coutinho too struggled to find the room he wanted to play with, and kept coming very deep to receive the ball, while Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson, in the second half particularly, both kept advancing forward trying to find an opening, but instead just made the game even more congested. The performance as a whole was the very epitome of a team who isn’t yet gelled as a squad of players. No one was on the same wavelength; it was very much eleven players each trying to play their own way.
The international break prior to this game did not help at all. After a tepid opening two games, we looked to be back to our usual selves with the Tottenham performance and result. But international duty came along, and we saw Daniel Sturridge pick up an injury, and Raheem Sterling return only fit enough for the bench. Joe Allen and Emre Can also got sidelined for a while, and on top of Martin Skrtel’s absence, this meant that straight away Brendan Rodgers found his hand forced in a lot of decisions he needed to make.
With Villa getting their early goal, there was very little chance for us to settle into the game, which is what we desperately needed. Just a period where we could play patient football, get everyone a few touches of the ball, and establish everyone’s role within the team. But too soon we were playing with panic and nervousness, and for a team where over half the players were new recruits, you could see the mentality and character that we had last season has not yet been redeveloped.
The early moments of the game were the only time Villa threatened our goal at all, but it goes to show the improvements we need to make in defence that their small period of dominance resulted in a goal, and very nearly followed up with a second when Philippe Senderos headed over after escaping his marker too easily. We just look shaky every time we come under an attack, whether it be in open play or from a set piece. This new backline will take time to adjust to each other, like the rest of the team, and they deserve a run of games before they are too harshly judged. But we need to see improvements quickly for them to have earned the right to prove they are the right defenders for us in the long run.
The term ‘park the bus’ gets thrown around far too easily nowadays, so I’m not going to accuse Aston Villa of doing it. They got an early goal, and sensibly chose to defend it instead of bombard forward mindlessly. And very effectively they defended it, at that. We were poor, but Villa set up well to deal with everything we had to throw at them. We tried occasionally to pass the ball around at the back to lure them out, but they weren’t falling for it and we knew the clock was ticking.
We can make excuses if we want, but overall the blame has to fall on us, as we simply weren’t good enough. But that isn’t to say we won’t get better, and only time will tell what sort of impact these three dropped points will have at the end of the season.
Something that did occur to me yesterday was that of our opening games of Southampton (H), Man City (A), Tottenham (A), and Aston Villa (H), in the corresponding fixtures last season we only picked up four points. This time we have six. So if you are really feeling desperate for a positive spin on things, there you go.
More likely though, you’re baffled at Aston Villa having well and truly cemented themselves as our Anfield bogey side, and frustrated at us having nothing to show from what should have been a routine win for a team considering themselves title contenders. But we’ve got the return of the Champions League to look forward to on Tuesday, and a good start in that, and a positive performance and result against West Ham on Saturday, and this time next week we could be looking at a very different picture.
By James Nelson (@_James_Nelson_)
An underperforming Liverpool once again fell foul of Paul Lambert’s Aston Villa side at Anfield, losing to a single first half goal from Gabby Agbonlahor. Despite a better 2nd half, the Reds couldn’t turn it around
Liverpool fell victim to a smash and grab raid every bit as lethal and as efficient as the legendary SAS by which they’ve come to call two of their most talismanic players.
The home side in truth, got what they deserved from the game, losing 0-1 to Paul Lambert’s expertly organised Aston Villa side. Liverpool simply weren’t at the races today and duly paid the price. Despite the advice of the LFC file in this morning’s Match Preview, Brendan Rodgers chose to leave Raheem Sterling on the bench and hand a home debut to Lazar Marković. A truly catastrophic move. Otherwise as expected, Adam Lallana and Philippe Coutinho came in to partner Mario Balotelli in attack and Jordan Henderson in midfield respectively.
Villa took the lead after nine minutes after Philippe Senderos botched his header from Ashley Westwood’s cross, leaving Gabby Abgonlahor to prod home the loose ball through the crowded goal mouth. The early setback seemed to remind the hosts they were in a football match but as the said match wore on, it became apparent this was nine minutes too late. Liverpool pressed and pressed in dominant matter and laid siege to the visitors’ back third, but to no avail. Debutants Lallana and Marković were largely ineffective. With the latter especially so. For the first 25 minutes, I forgot he was playing. I honestly began to think someone had been sent off and I hadn’t noticed. Balotelli received more than a fair share of attention and was repeatedly jostled, held and tripped by the opposing centre backs. To his credit, though there was no sign of petulance as he stuck to his task throughout. Even when the Lee Mason playing Blind Man’s Bluff, failed to spot a blatant trip on the Italian by Senderos, the last man.
The introduction of Sterling for Lallana breathed some life into Rodgers’ men but it was looking as if it was going to be a long afternoon for the Reds. Coutinho hit the post late on in the second half when he managed a rare approach toward the Villa goal, but this was as close as Liverpool got all game. on 71 minutes, Fabio Borini and Rickie Lambert came on for an ineffective Marcović and spent Balotelli. Liverpool continued to probe and ask questions of the visitors’ defence. Again and again, they answered uncompromisingly – NO!
So, in summary, a very disappointing result for Liverpool and in all honesty, a performance to match. I can’t even say Villa parked the proverbial bus in front of their goal because their display was a lesson to Liverpool in organisation, determination, and simply wanting to win more than their opponents. Lambert’s men continue deservedly unbeaten this season, and Liverpool deservedly have now lost two of their first four matches. Hardly the stuff of champions elect. It has to be said that my early observations of Markovicć appear to be spot on in so far that he has a lot of work to do to survive in the Premiership and especially in this Liverpool side. One hell of a lot of work and of all the close-season signings, he’s probably the weakest, for me.
One has to wonder if Rodgers is putting the Champions League before the Premiership on this showing. And if so, he’s playing a dangerous game. I’d have preferred he started with Sterling today and rested him on Tuesday against Ludogorets Razgrad. Liverpool need to step it up in the remaining games and with their season now consisting of two games per week instead of one, it’s going to have to be a big, big step. In fairness to Rodgers, he was magnanimous in defeat and duly held his hands up. On this showing, let’s hope the players now pull their socks up.
Follow Ben on Twitter: @Mrbengreen
The first 10 mins of the game set the tempo with an early goal from Gabby Agbonlahor following bad marking from a corner kick. Once Villa scored this they never really threatened again but once we got it to our Midfield, Delph Westwood and Cleverley pressed very well.
Once Villa got the ball all they had to do is to string 3/4 passes together and they were a good bit up the pitch while we would pass a lot but couldn’t break their defence down.
I give a lot of credit to Paul Lambert, That is now his second win with Villa at Anfield.
Balotelli wasn’t looking match fit with him not as running as much as he did against Spurs but every time he wanted the ball he had to go deep for it which was bad as once Manquillo or Moreno got the ball no one was really in the box. There was no desire or no real urgency from the Midfield especially Coutinho wasn’t great today had an alright spell once Sterling came on which was causing them a bit of trouble with his pace and quick feet.
Positive: Was good to see Lallana back from his injury and not playing that bad had his moments I would say the only reason he got taken off was because of his lack of match fitness.
I think Henderson and Moreno didn’t play that bad I thought they were our best but really just weren’t good enough going forward. Still can’t take it any credit away from Villa they really know how to frustrate us.
I’d say this was our worst performance since Hull City away last season which we were also very bad and lost 3-1.
Still we have to look forward can’t look back at the negatives we just have to learn from this.
Well don’t be that mad at least we have Champions League this Tuesday against Ludogorets at Anfield.It will be an incredible atmosphere our first game back in the Champions League since 2010.
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