24 August 2013

Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa

Sturridge 21'

Winning ugly is much, much better than losing or drawing prettily. We've had enough of that, thanks.

Look, that wasn't good. There was almost zero good aside from Liverpool's goal and Simon Mignolet. How many times has Liverpool been on the other end of that in the last few years?

The first 40 minutes were "good enough," keeping patient possession to ensure Villa didn't have the chance to rent Liverpool asunder on the counter, and getting men behind the ball when Villa took over. The final 50 minutes were "hold onto your butts, this is gonna be a rocky ride." But Liverpool held onto its butts. Barely, but their butts are still there.

Liverpool's starting game plan seemed the right one, even if it was a slight surprise to see the exact same XI and formation as against Stoke. We learned, to painful effect, how Villa can punish Liverpool's weaknesses: Liverpool's weaknesses in the air, Liverpool's weaknesses on the counter, Liverpool's weaknesses on set plays. For 40 minutes, Villa had zero chances to exploit those weaknesses. Sure, Liverpool created just four chances of their own, took just four shots in the first half – the goal, one off-target, and two blocked – but Liverpool converted its best opportunity, and converted it with aplomb. Sturridge kept possession after Okore's attempted tackle, Enrique whipped in a glorious low cross which Coutinho cleverly dummied, and Sturridge – who'd smartly continued his run – danced around Luna and Guzan before hammering into the net from close range.

But from there, downhill, and downhill fairly quickly. Villa's bum rush began as the first half drew to a close, with three successive corners, a fantastic block from Toure on Bacuna's effort, an excellent save from Mignolet on Benteke, and a fortuitous deflection from Agger on Weimann's blast when Liverpool's failed to fully clear that third consecutive corner.

Depressingly, the rest of the match played out in a similar vein, continuing to seesaw further and further in Villa's direction. Liverpool weren't let down by tactics as much as they were by individual mistakes and poor performances. Lucas and Gerrard were especially disappointing, conceding possession far too easily in the second half, overmatched by the Bacuna-Westwood-Delph triumvirate. Coutinho had one of his rare off days, creating no chances, taking just one wildly off-target shot, and completing just 73% of his passes (59% in the attacking third), but he at least played a key role in Liverpool's goal. Enrique and Johnson also gave the ball away too frequently, especially Johnson, but at least "did enough" to prevent their opponents from capitalizing on those errors. Agger once again appeared to want to subconsciously punish Mignolet for replacing Reina, nearly scoring an own goal on an overhit back pass under no pressure, requiring Mignolet to shin wide for a corner.

Liverpool won because Villa couldn't take its chances, thanks to their own wastefulness, decent defending from Toure and Agger (Benteke won just 5 of 12 aerial duels, after winning 12/22 and 14/23 against Chelsea and Arsenal), a crucial block from Gerrard, and another miraculous save from Mignolet. It's nice when that happens to someone else for a change. Mignolet's 86th-minute stop on Benteke's blast was most impressive, somehow clawing away the open strike after the striker found space between the two center-backs.

There's that old cliche about grinding out results, about how teams win even when their performance doesn't merit a win. Liverpool won 1-0, scoring with its only shot on target. They took five in total, just one after Sturridge's 21st minute goal. Meanwhile, Villa took 17. 17! At this point of the season, knowing all too well Liverpool's recent history, that'll do. That'll do just fine for now.

Liverpool hasn't won its first two matches of the campaign since 2008-09, hasn't kept a clean sheet in the first two matches since 2005-06. Yes, there are worries, and rightfully so, but Liverpool will undoubtedly play far better and lose or draw matches this season. It's happened before, it'll probably happen again. You can't complain about six points from six.


kevin said...

I know I shouldn't complain given that we havent let in a goal in 180 min and we have 6/6, but the attack looks a bit stale. I'm not sure what the issues are, but it doesn't seem to be clicking the way it did towards the end of last season. Maybe Downing's willingness to play a bit wider than Aspas or Henderson's more utilitarian role than a true forward. I'm not sure what it is. But it makes me nervous for United. We will probably need 1 or possibly 2 goals to have any chance of a result.

Anonymous said...

Villa seemed to be leggy after playing Chelski mid week and our possession football for forty minutes edged us in front. After that it was wave upon wave of their attacks, set piece defending and being tight and organized. We defended well, but are short of an aerial center back (wish Coates was fit and could actually use his height - though Toure for a smaller guy did well in the air). Also disappointed that we did not counter attack them. Love six points though!

Daki4 said...

Well written. Context is everything: 3 points, no injuries, an away fixture out of the way, and build confidence for the next game, a very good start to the season.

Anonymous said...

Nasty Nate,

Your favorite troll is back. But for now, waiting under the bridge as things are going great. Aspas' movement is what has us getting more looks up front without Suarez. If you could combine Aspas and Sturridge, you'd have a Suarez (except for the whole cannibal thing).

Gerrard is on his last legs, it is getting ugly out there. I would think this season and next then he is done. We need to seriously be looking to get a world class midfielder. We will never win anything with Lucas and ???? exactly. We have no midfield. Our defense is fine if we stay healthy and not sell off our best players. Our attacking front is fine if we stay healthy. But Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas is not going to win anything anytime soon for you. Lucas seems "good" now because he was so pitiful to begin with. When you set the bar so low, it is easy to seem great when you do marginally well. Also, between Gerrards old legs and Lucas, we could have the slowlest midfield in the world.

Can you make a poll for who wants Suarez to stay vs Suarez to leave, I'd love to see what people on this board think of Suarez at this point. Carragher and Neville on Sky Sports gave a very good argument to how he has given up in training and dropped his standards.

So happy another season is here! Following my local MLS club Sporting KC is fun, but nothing like watching the Reds! YNWA! If I get YNWA tatoo'd on me, can I get a little paragraph rant on your blog once a week?

Here's to another eventful season Nasty Nate. Cheers old boy!

Anonymous said...

Good article but it was a bit over critical. Liverpool understood the threat of Benteke and cut his supply. I thought they controlled the first half (apart from the last 5 minutes) and worked hard to ensure Villa couldn't hit them on the break. The latter stages were similar to the Stoke game ( and last season) where the team became a little nervous. Yes there wasn't the creativity of some performances but it was a solid away performance against a team that beat Aresenal at the Emirates and should have got a point against Chelsea at the Bridge. That is a good result.