26 September 2015

Liverpool 3-2 Aston Villa

Milner 2'
Sturridge 59' 67'
Gestede 66' 71'

Daniel Sturridge simply did not let Liverpool be Liverpool today. He wasn't anywhere near his peak, but he still scored two outstanding goals, which made all the difference. When you have a world class finisher, you have a chance.

Despite scoring the fastest goal in the Premier League this season, the first half was all too familiar. Milner's good touch and pinpoint left-footed finish from just outside the box was really Liverpool's only good opportunity of the half. Liverpool had more than 72% possession in the first half, but created just six chances, took just seven shots.

Had Aston Villa capitalized on Liverpool mistakes the way that Norwich or Carlisle had, then we'd have been level at halftime, or Liverpool would have been losing. The two best chances after Liverpool's opener were both from the away side, both featuring the all-too-typical tentative, wacky, and weak defending. First, Emre Can's attempted clearance fell straight to Gestede, spinning a shot just wide. Then, pinball in the box after Mignolet half-cleared Hutton's dangerous cross on the break, but it ended with Westwood's shot deflected just wide. Liverpool didn't get those lucky bounces in the last two matches.

Aston Villa weren't and aren't good, while Liverpool pressed well, dominated the ball, and seemed in control, if customarily blunt. But Liverpool are rarely actually in control.

Thankfully, Liverpool realized the need to up the pressure in the second half. And Daniel Sturridge came to life accordingly, with important cameos from Milner and Coutinho. Milner provided a delightful chip into the space for Sturridge to jaw-droppingly volley in the 59th; a one-two with Coutinho after Sturridge pounced on a Villa mistake, featuring a delightful back heel to put Sturridge through, Sturridge smartly continuing his run into the box and angling a right-footed finish past Guzan.

But because Liverpool is still Liverpool, Villa reduced arrears not long after Liverpool took a two-goal lead. Both times. Both scored by Gestede, both goals from crosses, both crosses from Villa's fullbacks, both Liverpool's left- and right-sided center-backs embarrassed in the process. Can completely lost Gestede on Hutton's low cross in the 66th, allowing a tap-in. Five minutes later, Gestede absolutely trucked Sakho to reach Amavi's deep cross, hammering an unstoppable header over Mignolet.

12 minutes, four goals, two for each side. It wasn't quite 2013-14's free-scoring chaos, but it brought back memories.

Thankfully, Liverpool sorted themselves out after conceding that second, led by Lucas seemingly everywhere in Liverpool's half. Villa had more possession, Liverpool sat deeper, but the away side were limited to a Richards set play half-chance over the final 20 minutes, while three mistakes from Villa when pressed by Liverpool's attackers should have led to a fourth home goal. But Ings saw his shot blocked, Sturridge had one blocked while Guzan smartly saved the other. Adding a fourth on the counter, thanks to pressing, really would have brought back memories of 2013-14.

No matter. Liverpool held on, Liverpool won its first league match since August 17, Liverpool scored three goals for the first time since February. Liverpool beat Aston Villa at Anfield for the first time since 2010. Sure, Aston Villa weren't very good, but some not-very-good Aston Villa teams have taken points off of better Liverpool teams in recent meetings.

Today wasn't all ills cured, all evil exorcised. There are still issues up front, and there are certainly still issues at the back. But it was better, mainly because Sturridge, but also because of Danny Ings, also because of a more cohesive midfield, with Coutinho slightly deeper and more creative, with Milner more influential, with one of Lucas' best games since Rodgers became manager. It wasn't a dire, dreary, death-warmed-over 1-0, 1-1, or 0-1. For a change.

There's still a long way to go before Liverpool reach where Liverpool need to be. There's still a long way to go for Rodgers to earn a reprieve. Liverpool will have to do it against much better opposition; after Sion in the Europa League on Thursday, it's going to get a lot harder: a Merseyside derby, an international break, a resurgent Tottenham.

But today was a start.

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