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