By Arun Nair – (@Nair_39)
Liverpool were left shocked after a brace from Christian Benteke and a goal from Andreas Weimann consigned the Reds to a 3-1 defeat at Anfield against Aston Villa, with a late Steven Gerrard header the solitary reply. The home side enjoyed spells of almost total domination, but the youthful opposition were ruthless when afforded the opportunity, whilst Liverpool again lacked cutting edge.
The result served as an unwelcome reminder of the work still to be done before the Reds reach the levels expected by the Anfield faithful after growing levels of both anticipation and optimism that Brendan Rodgers’ side were close to launching an assault on the top four.
After an early scare when Benteke forced a save from Pepe Reina with a header in the opening seconds, Liverpool began to assert heavy dominance, probing for openings.
However, their customary profligacy cost them on several occasions, epitomised when Luis Suarez failed to send Gerrard through, playing the ball behind the captain’s surging run, before the Uruguyan robbed Chris Herd outside the area and layed the ball off only for Jonjo Shelvey to be denied by Nathan Baker’s timely intervention.
Villa had the most clear cut chance thus far despite the home side’s dominance. Weimann was sent through only to be thwarted by Reina’s sliding tackle, but the Reds failed to heed the warning. Brett Holman found Benteke soon after, and afforded ample time and space the Belgian striker drove a shot off the post and in past Reina’s despairing dive.
Suarez thrashed a shot into the side netting as Liverpool threatened an instant reply, but the opener seemed to leave the home side deflated, whilst giving Villa new found confidence. They almost grabbed a second when Weimann’s lob floated over after he was sent throught by Glen Johnson’s weak header, before the Austrian striker did extend the away side’s lead, combining with Benteke before the latter’s sublime backheel allowed Weimann to sweep home.
The Reds saw a decent penalty shout waved away after Cieran Clark tugged Daniel Agger down in the area, while Rodgers had sent on Joe Cole for Shelvey as he tried to inspire a second half comeback.
Unfortunately, Cole’s first meaningful intervention lead to the away side’s third. The substitute was dispossessed in his own half by Benteke, who was allowed to waltz almost unopposed through the gaping Liverpool defence before firing past Reina.
The third goal left Liverpool visibly shocked and despite comprehensive dominance they seemed devoid of ideas and invention, whilst Villa continued to threaten on the break, forcing several saves from Reina.
The Reds did find a way past Brad Guzan and the Villa defence late on, Gerrard’s header converting Johnson’s attempted shot, but it proved the only consolation in a bitter defeat.