Vital Report: Liverpool 2-2 Aston Villa
Barclays Premier League
18/01/2014, 5.30pm GMT
Liverpool drop points at home for only a second time this season but can count themselves somewhat fortunate to escape with a point after a strangely lacklustre performance...
Reds boss Brendan Rodgers named an attacking line-up with striker Daniel Sturridge replacing midfielder Lucas Leiva in the only change from last weekend's 5-3 win at Stoke City.
Villa started incredibly brightly and positively, especially for a side whose fans have been vociferously bemoaning their continual negativity of late.
Gabriel Agbonlahor had a great chance within the first couple of minutes when a Cristian Benteke flick-on sent him through on goal.
Simon Mignolet did well to narrow the angles but the former England international should have at least got a shot on target rather than prodding wide.
Moments later and Agbonlahor had a chance to setup an unmarked Benteke but wrongly decided to go alone and duly lost the ball.
At the other end, a dangerous Steven Gerrard free-kick momentarily had Paul Lambert's men under pressure but the cross was headed behind for a corner.
Despite a couple of further moments of promise, often via the fleet-footed Raheem Sterling, it was still predominantly Villa carrying the threat as Ashley Westwood tested Mignolet with a firm strike from the edge of the area.
It had been a lethargic showing from the hosts and they were lucky to remain on terms in the 23rd minute when Ciaron Clark hit the post with a free header from a corner.
The goal Villa deserved finally arrived a couple of minutes later when Andreas Weimann slid home an Agbonlahor cross from close range.
There was a slight question mark over off-side but the ease with which Fabian Delph and Benteke combined to set Agbonlahor away was arguably of bigger concern.
Thankfully, falling behind finally appeared to awake the Reds from their slumber as Sturridge sent a dipping volley narrowly over the bar.
Sterling then warmed the palms of Brad Guzan from a tight angle but 10 minutes before the break Villa had a second.
A swift counter-attack down the right ended with an Agbonlahor cross being headed home from a couple of yards out by Benteke after Mignolet had flapped and failed to cut it out.
Aly Cissokho had a chance to reduce the arrears before the break, following great approach play by Luis Suarez, but the lumbering Frenchman sliced woefully high and wide.
Just as it looked like both sides had settled for the interval, Liverpool finally clicked as an attacking unit to pull a goal back via a well-worked strike.
Jordan Henderson flicked a Suarez pass into the path of Sturridge who duly slotted it pass the advancing Guzan.
The goal failed to sway Rodgers about the poorness of the display however and Lucas was duly introduced for the start of the second half at the expense of the ineffective Philippe Coutinho.
A subsequent reshuffle meant a more attacking role for Gerrard and the Liverpool skipper almost burst through within seconds of the restart.
The Reds were now full of tempo and hunger; unrecognisable from the way they had played in the first 45 minutes.
Seconds after visiting substitute Grant Holt had wasted a potential opening for Villa, Liverpool had the opportunity to equalise from the penalty spot.
A beautiful pass by Gerrard set Suarez away and the Premier League's top scorer was duly felled by Guzan as he attempted to round the big American.
Contact was minimal, and somewhat initiated by the Uruguayan, but Gerrard duly dispatched it into the right-hand corner all the same.
Suarez went close himself in the 55th minute with an audacious, quickly-taken free-kick from near the halfway line which floated narrowly over the bar.
The Midlanders refused to lie down though and continued to be positive themselves; Delph curling a beautiful effort narrowly wide.
Both Suarez and Henderson forced good saves out of Guzan around the hour mark but the Reds received a blow when Lucas, who had helped to turn around the midfield battle since his introduction, had to hobble off.
Despite plenty more positive play from both sides a lengthy lull in clear cut chances followed.
Neither team could find a winner late on, although Suarez did go close with another impressively struck free-kick.
In truth, if the men in red had found another goal it would have been incredibly harsh on Villa who deserved something for the way they had dominated the first half.
You will always have a number of off days over the course of a season and, on the bright side, at least we didn't lose! The first half was as poor as the shocking performance at Hull City six weeks ago and in truth we should have been further than two goals behind. Defensively it was nothing short of inept at times with Cissokho and Kolo Toure in particular struggling. In fairness, the combination of Benteke's power and Agbonlahor's pace can be an extremely potent mix; Agbonlahor in particular was a constant threat throughout. The experiment of playing Gerrard as the most defensive of the midfielders clearly contributed to the struggles and it also took something away from the side going forward.
Lots of credit must go to Lambert and his side though who gave it a real go even though they came into the game low in confidence and with only one win in their last eight games. Liverpool improved markedly in the second half and showed decent spirit and fight to get back into it. With over half an hour to play after equalising I fully expected us to go on and win but it wasn't to be.
Unfortunately we've slipped to eight points behind the leaders as a result and must now be hopeful that the likes of Swansea and West Bromwich Albion can get results against our main rivals for fourth over the coming days. This was one of those games we would have, and literally did, lose in previous seasons. Plenty to remain positive about.
Daniel Sturridge - There wasn't really a standout performer in Red but given this was the striker's first start since a long period out through injury, he did extremely well to last the pace. Also took the goal very well and occupied Villa's defenders to allow space for others to threaten.
Mignolet, Johnson, Skrtel, Toure, Cissokho, Gerrard, Henderson, Coutinho (Lucas 45' / Allen 66'), Sterling, Suarez, Sturridge.
Unused subs: Jones, Kelly, Moses, Alberto, Aspas.
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