17 January 2015

Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa

Borini 24'
Lambert 79'

That was the first time Liverpool have kept three consecutive league clean sheets away from Anfield since the first three away matches of 2008-09.

That was the first time Aston Villa have conceded twice in a match since November 2nd.

That was the first time this season that Liverpool have gotten goals from two different strikers in the same match.

That was the first time that a Liverpool substitute scored in the league since Coutinho's goal at QPR on October 19, 15 matches ago. It was only the second league goal scored by a substitute this season.

So even though Aston Villa threatened more than they probably should have, and teams that aren't Aston Villa – scoreless in their last 522 minutes of league football – probably would have scored at least once, it's hard to complain about that performance.

Liverpool started well, and took advantage of their good start through Borini, his first Liverpool goal since April 2013. Quick passes following a quick throw-in deep in Villa's half, an indescribably perfect cross from Henderson, a smart run from a just-onside Borini for a tap-in. Sterling should have added a second, chipping straight at Guzan when one-on-one with the keeper, but Liverpool did well to nullify any potential response until the last five minutes of the first half, when Mignolet eventually held Sanchez's shot from nowhere and Cleverley ballooned an effort from the left side of the box.

Unlike against Sunderland, Liverpool didn't completely sit back to start the second half, and again should have extended their lead, fingertips from Guzan enough to deny Borini following Skrtel's knockdown of a corner.

But the inevitable Villa response finally came after a double substitution from Paul Lambert on the hour mark, replacing Westwood and Cleverley with Weimann and Carlos Gil, and the subsequent 10-15 minutes were utterly terrifying. A brilliant Mignolet save on Benteke, a Baker free header from a corner narrowly over, Skrtel's outstanding tackle to block Benteke following Delph's run and throughball, Baker whiffing on an open eight-yard effort after Can misjudged a clearing header which fell to Benteke.

I'm still not quite sure how Liverpool survived. But Liverpool somehow survived. I suspect it had something to do with Villa's overall terribleness, but so be it. And Rodgers' double substitution – Lambert and Enrique for Borini and Moreno – solidified the side, helped Liverpool gain some semblance of control, and eventually led to the game-killing second goal.

Aston Villa had apparently cleared the corner that came from Lucas' excellent shot, again saved by Guzan, but Sterling intercepted Delph's sloppy pass and played it quickly for Lambert, who jinked into space and sent a shot from the top of the box into the far corner. Game, set, match. Everything else after that was a formality, highlighted by Ibe's cameo appearance.

So, yeah. Liverpool were helped by the opposition's form, especially impotence in front of goal, as we've said more than a few times this season. But Liverpool still had to be good enough to take advantage of it. They hadn't been able to do so against similarly poor opponents earlier this season. And I'm sure I don't have to remind how awful some of Liverpool's recent matches against Villa have been.

Three consecutive away clean sheets. Five consecutive away wins in all competitions. Since the horrific loss at Crystal Palace, Liverpool have won six, drawn three, and lost just once, an average of 2.1 points per game, keeping five clean sheets in the process. Henderson and Lucas were again outstanding in midfield, as were Can, Sakho, and Skrtel in defense, and Markovic and Moreno going forward. Even Mignolet looked better, no hesitation to come out to claim crosses, and making two very important saves. Rodgers' substitutions, if surprising choices, clearly improved the side.

Liverpool are getting there. It's been a slow, sometimes painful process, and they're not there yet, but at least there's finally some there there.

1 comment :

Zētētikos said...

I was most pleased with the Enrique for Moreno sub. I think that Moreno faded against Sunderland last week and I was frustrated when he didn't get taken off. Similarly, against Villa, he seemed to tire and then he doesn't track back and gets caught out. I know Enrique is mad, but he really helped us take back control of the game in the second half.