As always, match data from Stats Zone and Squawka.
Liverpool have played 267 matches (194 in the league) since the last time they took a point despite a two-goal deficit. That was December 13, 2008, conceding two early goals to Hull before getting back to 2-2 before halftime, but unable to find a winner in the second half. That match was also at Anfield, a match that Liverpool expected to win going in, a match that Liverpool needed to win. The last time Liverpool won despite a two-goal deficit was 15 matches before that, beating Manchester City 3-2 in October 2008.
Liverpool have been behind by at least two goals in 36 matches over those five years. They were able to pull a goal back in 14 of those 36 matches, but either couldn't get another or conceded a third to the opposition. So, yes, that Liverpool were able to at least get a point on Saturday is progress, is further exorcism of the last four seasons' pain. But they shouldn't have been in that position in the first place.
"They put a lot of men around me. Every time I tried to get the ball under control they swamped me in the first half. It didn't work for myself or the team. I openly admit that it wasn't one of my better 45 minutes, but I improved after the break with the team and we managed to get back in it, but it's still two points dropped for us." (via Sky Sports)
Saturday saw Gerrard's worst passing accuracy of the season, the worst since I started doing these match infographics at the beginning of last season? This season's previous low was last week at Stoke. The two times he's played in "the Pirlo role." I wonder if that's coincidence.
Saturday also saw Gerrard's low for passes completed when starting since the beginning of last season, and that's including matches where he was subbed off. The only other match that came close was the 2-2 draw at Everton last season, where Liverpool were dominated after going up 2-0 within 20 minutes; Gerrard completed 35 of 39 attempted.
Unsurprisingly, Gerrard's performance did improve in the second half. Because he had help.
Lucas and Allen provide an outlet. Lucas and Allen will knit play in their own half, will play the simple pass to open up space. Lucas and Allen will do the chasing in defense. Henderson, for all his positives, suffers in those areas, almost immediately looking to get forward, leaving Gerrard with few options when he actually received the ball in the first half. It really is no coincidence that Liverpool's best 20 minutes were the 20 minutes that Lucas was on the pitch, even if the Brazilian's rarely been 'at his best' this season. Gerrard's passing was still overly ambitious, and subsequently less accurate, in the second half – look at all those long passes – but one of those ambitious passes won Liverpool the (deserved) equalizing penalty. And that's also a credit to how Villa defended and swarmed the midfield, even when they were less dangerous in attack thanks to Liverpool's halftime changes (as well as Agbonlahor's injury).
Liverpool's inability to win aerial duels was almost as much an issue as the missing midfield. Again, Gerrard was especially poor, winning none of his six, all in dangerous positions. Lucas isn't the best header of the ball, but he's averaged 2.5 aerial duels won per match this season, fourth-best in the squad behind Skrtel, Sakho, and Agger, winning 62% (47 of 76).
Benteke won 13 of 18 aerial duels on Saturday. At Villa Park, Benteke only won five of 12 aerial duels, as Agger won three of five, Toure two of three, Lucas two of two, and Johnson six of 10. On Saturday, Skrtel won four of six, Toure one of two, and Johnson one of seven, in addition to Gerrard's zero of six. Most notable were Johnson's failings: from six of ten in the last meeting to one of seven two days ago, especially important because of how Benteke prefers to drift wide onto a fullback – usually the right-back – on long hoofs forward. It's no surprise that Benteke attempted the most passes in the match, tied with Henderson. Unlike in the last two wins over Villa, Liverpool could not stop him.
Johnson's decline over the last couple of months, in absolutely every facet of the game, has been one of the most worrying trends of late, especially with Enrique and Flanagan's injuries, and Martin Kelly's disappearance from the face of the earth.
Combined, Liverpool's fullbacks attempted just 15 passes in the attacking third, completing nine. At home. Against Aston Villa. In the last three matches they've started – against Hull, at Stoke, against Villa – Johnson and Cissokho are responsible for just two chances created (both by Johnson) and just four shots (three from Cissokho, one from Johnson), all four either off-target or blocked. And yet both were caught upfield on Villa's two goals, one from each flank, stretching an already infirm defense out of position, with both goals coming from Agbonlahor crosses: one low, one lofted. Yes, Johnson's woefully out-of-form. Yes, Cissokho's third-choice, at best. That's still unacceptable, and thanks to injuries, it's become Liverpool's weakest position, despite the aforementioned struggles in midfield.
Remember when it 'just wasn't working' last season against Wigan? Rodgers hooked Suso in the 36th minute, even though Suso had been one of Liverpool's lone bright spots. But the midfield was unbalanced and ineffective, and Liverpool need the midfield to be at least marginally working to be anywhere near their best. Liverpool went on to win 3-0 against Wigan thanks to that substitution. Sure, by that point on Saturday, Liverpool was already 0-1 down, soon to be 0-2, but there was no need to wait until halftime to rectify what was obviously a bad situation, a situation that was obviously bad by the 10th minute.
There were some very, very bad Liverpool performances on the pitch. Gerrard's inability to play in the deep-lying role, the fullbacks' ineptness, time passing Toure by, Mignolet's error for Villa's second goal (the fourth goal he was at fault for in five games, no less). And, yes, injuries than have hamstrung this already shallow squad. But Rodgers' almost arrogant, overly-attacking starting XI and then waiting until halftime to make the obvious substitution still seems most at fault for Liverpool dropping two points.