Vital Report: Liverpool 1-3 Aston Villa
Vital Liverpool report on the Reds' bitterly disappointing 3-1 defeat at the hands of a Christian Benteke-inspired Aston Villa.
Over the last 22 years, Liverpool fans have become well accustomed to phrases which insinuate that our club are heading back to more successful times. The most infuriating and not to mention overly used term is 'turned the corner'.
If Liverpool have indeed turned the corner on the amount of occasions they are supposed to have done in the contemporary era, then perhaps the club should turn its hands to Formula One.
After snatching a precious away victory against West Ham last Sunday, we had a feeling once more that better days were on the not-so-distant horizon. However, we should have known that every time those feelings enter our state of consciousness, Liverpool churn out a result or performance that reverts us back sharpish to that humbling place: square one.
The team's 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa was certainly unexpected. The mood around Anfield prior to kick-off suggested a good day was in the offing, but Christian Benteke tore the script to bits and inspired the away side to a shocking result.
It could have been so different if Liverpool hadn't embarked on another period of wasteful finishing, this time in the opening 20 minutes.
Chances came and went during this period for Joe Allen, Raheem Sterling, Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Allen.
The most infuriating opportunity involved Suarez and Steven Gerrard. Liverpool's two star turns broke centrally through Villa's rearguard which left them in a two-on-one situation, where Suarez only had to play a simple five yard pass to Gerrard in order to leave him clean through on goal (a scenario where Gerrard rarely fails), but he dallied, dallied some more, then inexplicably played the pass behind his captain and the move broke down.
A weakness of Suarez's is that he holds onto the ball too long when in situations such as these, he hasn't perfected the art of choosing the simple option. But it's perhaps harsh to single out Suarez for any kind of criticism, given the ever-growing amount of responsibility that rests on his shoulders.
The same old story ensued after Liverpool's period of complete dominance. After one of Villa's first forays into Liverpool defensive territory, Christian Benteke received the ball 25 yards out, took a touch, then slotted in a side footed shot beyond Pepe Reina at his near post.
A very good goal, but Liverpool's pressing left a lot to be desired, and unfortunately it wouldn't be their last defensive calamity.
Villa looked far more solid after their sucker-punch, whilst Liverpool's period of dynamic movement and incisive football came to a complete standstill.
Looking increasingly open at the back in their attempts to get back into the game, Liverpool conceded a second on 40 minutes. It came after a fine Villa move, a one-two between Benteke and Andreas Weimann at the edge of the box, then Benteke's classy back-heel to Weimann - who hadn't been tracked anywhere near well enough - who slotted the ball under Reina from eight yards.
Anfield was stunned into silence.
A second half onslaught was expected, but in fairness, it never came. Liverpool lacked ideas and performed terribly.
They should have been given the opportunity to make it 2-1 however, when on 47 minutes Daniel Agger was wrestled to the ground in the penalty area by Ciaran Clark, but Neil Swarbrick waved away vociferous protests. Liverpool's agonising wait for a penalty this season continues.
Things then became a touch embarrassing on 51 minutes. Joe Allen's poor pass (it seems that Allen's renaissance, summed up by his performance against Udinese, is short-lived) gave Benteke the chance to intercept, but the big Belgian should never have been allowed to stroll past Martin Skrtel and Daniel Agger, before passing the ball into the net, without some sort of challenge. Another great goal from him, but another case of poor defending.
An Istanbul-style comeback never looked likely because Liverpool were alarmingly bereft of creativity, not helped by Rodgers' strange reluctance to hand Suso a run-out. Meanwhile, Villa looked solid.
A consolation goal was all that Liverpool could muster. It came on 87 minutes, when Gerrard diverted Glen Johnson's shot beyond Brad Guzan.
A very unexpected and thus very disappointing loss for Liverpool. It seems that any mention of a revival is met with a bad performance and result. Maybe we shouldn't get too excited in future, but it's difficult to keep that precious human emotion in check: hope.
Searching for positives from the game is difficult, but the one good thing that could come from today is that it may prove to be some sort of reality check. Perhaps its far too premature to expect a sustained assault on fourth place.
That will only arrive when Liverpool improve their attacking options, therefore, the earliest it may come is following the January transfer window, but that is assuming Liverpool will buy well.
Their recent history of striker signings in January, players like Andy Carroll and Fernando Morientes (Luis Suarez was a massive exception of course), suggest that we shouldn't get our hopes up on that either.
A move for Darren Bent has been mooted, but Liverpool would be better served looking at the player who has replaced him in Villa's starting line-up, based on today's performance, 22-year-old Christian Benteke is destined for the top.
Liverpool's Star Player
Stewart Downing. Yes, you've read that correctly. Stewart Downing was Liverpool's man of the match. He played some superb cross-field passes and whipped in several dangerous crosses. He was playing left-back today and it is fitting that a defender is singled out and not one of Liverpool's attacking players.
Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Downing, Lucas (Henderson 60'), Allen, Gerrard, Shelvey (Cole 46'), Suarez, Sterling.
Click here to read Brendan Rodgers' comments on the match
Click here to see comprehensive match stats from the game
Follow me on Twitter @antonyjlfc
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