Assessing The Damage After The Villa Defeat

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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_)