06 December 2010

Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa

Johnson Kyrgiakos Skrtel Konchesky
Kuyt Meireles Lucas Maxi
Ngog Babel

Ngog 14'
Babel 16'
Maxi 55'

Just like the last home match, a comfortable 3-0 victory against sub-standard opposition. This is a trend I could get used to.

After a scrappy opener, two quick-fire goals by Liverpool's two strikers settled matters early on. The first was from Ngog, a brave diving header after Skrtel's knocked Meireles corner into a dangerous area. The Portuguese midfielder's set-piece delivery was excellent today, and one would hope he continues taking them after Gerrard returns. The second, barely 120 seconds later, came after a one-touch counter brilliantly finished by Babel. Meireles started the move, Lucas' ball over the top found an arguably "onside" Babel, and the Dutchman smartly turned Warnock, allowing the ball to roll across his body before blasting past Friedel.

From there, Liverpool were on cruise control with Villa unable to challenge the Lucas/Meireles midfield. Restricted to one chance – Collins out-jumping Skrtel on a corner in the 22nd but unable to direct his header on target – the away side posed next to no threat in open play. Youngsters Hogg and Clark could barely get a touch, while Downing's crosses were directed straight at Reina all match long. Liverpool were content to soak up everything, nearly adding a third in the 37th when Meireles' deep cross found Babel, who threateningly volleyed wide. Right before halftime, ESPN's camera's caught Hodgson in mid-scream. His instructions? "No goals against us!" Surprise, surprise.

And Liverpool continued in that vein in the second half, completely happy to rely on the counter and keep a clean sheet. However, Villa were slightly more dangerous, removing the ineffective Clark for a second striker in Delfouneso. The switch to 4-4-2 led to Villa's lone shot on target, with Reina wonderfully keeping out Agbonlahor's point-blank sliding effort in the 53rd.

Two minutes later, Liverpool reasserted dominance and crushed Villa's infinitesimal hope. Reina started the move after catching another poor Downing cross, finding Maxi with a pin-point throw. The Argentinean spread it wide for Ngog and continued his run into the box, in perfect position to slam the Frenchman's cutback into the far corner.

From there, Liverpool were happy to concede possession and defend deep, as has been their wont this season, but Villa never threatened as we're accustomed to. Johnson had two chances at a fourth on the break, while Kyrgiakos' header from a corner was cleared off the line 15 minutes from full-time. Aurelio replaced Maxi while Cole came on for Kuyt as Liverpool killed the remaining minutes, while Villa simply waited for the final reprieve whistle reprieve.

As against West Ham, it's reassuring to see Liverpool uncontested and dominant at home. Three goals and a clean sheet mean the side's now up to 8th and with a positive goal differential for the first time this season. Writing Lucas and Meireles 'bossed the midfield' does little justice to their performance, and I'd hope that Hodgson keeps faith with the pairing when Gerrard's fit, moving the captain into his familiar role behind Torres. I'm biased, but yet again Lucas was my man of the match. Ngog worked hard all game and scored another excellent goal, while Babel repaid the manager's faith in him. Liverpool could have played Kuyt up front and Cole, Jovanovic, or Aurelio on the flanks. And that clean sheet marks Reina's 100th, the quickest to that number in Liverpool's history. After 198 games, blanking the opposition at an average of every other game. It's only fair he marked the milestone with the captain's armband.

But despite all the positives, winning against lesser opposition at Anfield hasn't been the problem. Continuing to win, building confidence and consistency, is nothing to scoff at. That Liverpool did it without Gerrard, Carragher, and Torres – missing because of the birth of his second child – is also an excellent sign. But Liverpool still need to do it away from their own castle.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, you hardly expect Hodgson to be shouting to get men forward just before half-time when a Villa goal can change the game. I know where you're coming from but we have to be reasonable.

Joel said...

Wouldn't mind seeing Gerrard on the right either. With our current playstyle, the RM pinches in a fair bit and is on the ball quite a lot. Seems to me that Roy is more likely to continue with our current 442/4222 than switch back to 4231. On current form especially, Kuyt warrants some time out with someone like Gerrard or Maxi coming in on the right, maybe Babel on the left?

Bill said...

Anonymous has a point. Hodgson could be saying "no goals against us" for a number of valid reasons. Take Reina's achievement, or the positive goal difference. At that stage of the game, I think it reflects shrewd management. Surprise surprise.

amarestoudemaxo said...

glad to be continuously proven wrong about ngog, and proven right about lucas. Also glad that Babel got some time at striker, where I think he could become pretty dangerous as a speedster / poacher, especially as someone to spell Torres.

drew said...

The tantalizing thing about this season is that a good run of form could see just about anyone scale the table.

This next game is an enormous test of Hodgson's ability to adapt: if he can't come up with a plan to attack a Newcastle side in utter turmoil, then he is hopeless. The rest of the month reads like a granted wishlist: dead rubber against Utrecht (chance for Kuyt to get back on song), hapless travellers Fulham* at Anfield, revenge match at Blackpool, and awful awful Wolves at home, before two very important looking local matches home to Bolton and away to Blackburn.

So many ifs I don't even want to go into them, but there's every chance of hitting the transfer window on a very good run of form, if we just do a job each time out. Taking it to Toon (where we have produced some glorious displays in recent seasons) is a must.

* leave the easy one aside, lads

nate said...

Fair enough, at the point right before halftime, not conceding is a priority.

However, at 2-0, Liverpool were still slightly precarious; we've seen this side concede a fair amount of goals when ahead. 2-0 is completely different than 3-0, and Liverpool stayed in the same deep, 'don't concede' style after the interval, which aided Villa's marginal improvement. Thankfully, Reina, Maxi, and Ngog quickly combined for a wonderful break, and at 3-0 it really was game over, where Liverpool could comfortably take the foot off the gas.

Admittedly, it worked, so it's a small complaint, but just once, I'd like to see Liverpool go for the throat this season.

Stupid Terry said...

I have just found out why the Lucas & Meireles midfield partnership works so well. They have good understanding with each other because..

... they both speak PORTUGUESE!!

(sorry it sounds lame, but i just realize today that portuguese is the official language of Brazil too)