Writer: Gavin Kelley-Day
Date:Sunday January 19 2014
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.
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Date:Sunday January 19 2014
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|4. Man Utd||28||15||8||5||21||53|
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