28 October 2006

Liverpool 3-1 Aston Villa

Kuyt 30'; Crouch 37'; Garcia 43'
Agbonlahor 55'

That’s more like it. So much for Aston Villa’s much heralded unbeaten streak. Finally, Liverpool came out and impressed, and it’s strange having so little to complain about. That was easily the best performance of the season, and it couldn’t have come sooner.

For the first time, Kuyt and Crouch paired up exceedingly well. Unlike previous times playing together, both seemed to have a better idea of their roles, with Crouch dropping deeper and Kuyt doing damage higher up the field. Both strikers got on the score sheet, which is always something to celebrate, but both were also active all over Villa’s half and stretched the defense magnificently.

Liverpool also did a vastly superior job retaining possession, especially in the first half. After Villa went a goal down to Chelsea, they were able to climb back into the game, and ended up having more of the ball than Chelsea did. Liverpool did not let that happen. Sissoko was his usual rampaging self, and did an excellent job breaking up any possible Villa attack. After Momo mopped up, Alonso was there to distribute, which he did in typical picturesque fashion. While Stevie didn’t get his goal, he was much improved, popping up left, right and center during Liverpool’s attacks, and was far more influential than he had been recently.

The only disappointment was the loss of the clean sheet, thanks to Gabriel Agbonlahor’s goal midway through the second half. However, when Liverpool has given up three goals to Reading and two to Manchester United in the last two games, I’ll take simply letting in one. Agbonlahor was Villa’s most dangerous player on the pitch, and limiting him to the one breakaway chance is an improvement in and of itself.

The defense was much improved in all areas. Reina looked more assured, and made an absolutely stunning reflex save to deny Chris Sutton from making it 3-2. Carragher and Hyypia were characteristically reliable, and neither had difficulty in dealing with Villa’s pace (aside from the one goal), which I had feared. Hyypia especially was impressive; not only was he as comfortable in defense as he has been all season, he got forward more often than I can remember, and it was his knock-down that led to Kuyt’s goal. The defending on the flanks, where Liverpool has had problems of late, was vastly improved, with Finnan and Riise getting back well, and the center backs covering the gaps left open when the full backs pushed forward.

This is progress, and this was the perfect reply to the inane talk of boardroom unrest. All in all, it was a fluid team performance, and that’s what they needed. When Liverpool plays like this, you remember why pundits believed they could challenge for the title.

MOM: Dirk Kuyt