As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
From the Spurs match infographic:
The short version is: statistics lie. Or, at least, some statistics lie. But we've long since learned that possession and passes don't necessarily translate into results.
Lesson learned again.
75.8% – in the second half – is the most possession Liverpool have had in a single half this season. 72.1% is the most Liverpool have had in a match, the only time Liverpool have been above 70% for the full 90 minutes.
146 are the fewest passes completed by a Liverpool opponent this season, and yet yesterday's result is Liverpool's largest home loss since getting beat by the same opposition and the same scoreline in August 2009.
Just to highlight the vast discrepancy in passing, only three Aston Villa players completed more passes than Jordan Henderson – a substitute who played for 30 minutes. Combined, Villa's three central defenders completed fewer passes than Henderson, just 14 in total.
All that passing and all that possession led to exactly one goal, a somewhat fortuitous strike via Gerrard's headed deflection, a goal tallied with the match already long out of reach.
Villa's 18 tackles weren't an especially impressive total; Arsenal, Everton, Reading, Southampton, Spurs, Swansea, and Wigan all made more against Liverpool. Similar goes for interceptions, as Villa made 14. What's notable was that almost all the interceptions and tackles came outside the penalty box, aptly demonstrating just how much trouble Liverpool had even getting into the danger area.
More importantly, what they did do well was block, clear, and head away attempted crosses. 12 of Liverpool's 29 shots were blocked (including five of Suarez's seven), Villa attempted 53 clearances and won 16 of the 26 aerial duels (Benteke with 10 of 17), and just four of Liverpool's 37 open play crosses found a teammate (five of the successful crosses came from seven corners).
As Herd, Clark, and Baker closely marked Shelvey/Cole, Suarez, and Sterling, Johnson and Downing were the quote-unquote free players, sometimes marked by Lichaj and Lowton but usually with a bit of space as Villa's five defenders dropped into a single deep line. Which is evident in the two's passing totals – the most in the Liverpool squad, and the first time Liverpool's top passer wasn't a central midfielder (either Allen, Gerrard or Lucas in 15 of the previous 16 matches) or a central defender (Agger against Tottenham). But neither made full use of the extra possession.
One of Johnson's four shots led to Gerrard's redirected goal, one of Downing's shots stung Guzan's palms, but otherwise, both players' attacking stats left much to be desired. Johnson's three other shots were off-target, as was Downing's one other. Johnson created two chances: a low cross to Suarez in the 59th minute (shot blocked by two defenders) and a backheel to Suarez in the 84th (again, shot blocked). Downing created one chance: a low cross to Agger in the 82nd minute (who shanked the shot wildly). All three of those created chances came after Liverpool were already down by three. Downing's ten other open play crosses failed to find their target, as did Johnson's five. Both Johnson and Downing completed 84% of their passes in total, but just 71% and 78% respectively in the final third. One of Johnson's seven passes into the box found its target; two of Downing's four did, but neither led to a Liverpool chance.
This isn't to excoriate those two players while giving the other 11 a pass – Suarez, Sterling, Gerrard, Allen, Lucas, and Shelvey were all below their usual standards, especially in the final third – but Johnson and Downing were the players with the most space against Villa's well-marshaled formation. And did little with it.
Liverpool created 17 chances in total (but just three before Villa were two up). None were clear-cut chances. 204 final third passes, 37 open play crosses, seven corners, 29 shots, and zero clear-cut chances. Which speaks to both Villa's excellent defending and Liverpool's utter impotence in attack. Meanwhile, two of Villa's ten created chances were clear cut, and Villa scored both of them. That's the match. End of interview.
Aston Villa presented a lot of the same problems that West Ham did last week. Benteke was outstanding in the air, with the ball at his feet, and in front of goal, miles superior to Carlton Cole, who tormented Liverpool's defense during stretches last weekend. All three of his shots were on target, he provided the assist for the other goal, he won 59% of his aerial duels against one of the league's center-back pairings, etc. etc. With good reason WhoScored named him one of the five players to receive 10 out of 10 in their match performance rating so far this season. And with direct, counter-attacking football, Villa utilized his talents perfectly. Benteke and Weimann were two of Villa's top three passers; Guzan to Benteke was Villa's most frequent pass combination, completing 10 more passes than the second-most frequent: Benteke to Weimann. Incidentally, Liverpool's were Agger to Downing and Downing to Sterling, by some distance.
Unlike against West Ham, Liverpool couldn't rally after conceding against the run of play – this time conceding more through mistakes against a talented striker rather than bad luck – and were let down by wastefulness in the final third as Villa defended with more bodies and more competence than last week's opponent. Combined, it's a recipe for disaster, no matter how much possession you have or how many passes you string together.