An unconvincing win, but one I’m sure most Reds fans will take with open arms. A sublime goal of Luis Suarez-esque brilliance, albeit this time it’s another striker hot on-form, Daniel Sturridge, carrying on from last season with his incredible goal tally of 7 goals in 8 games now, giving Brendan Rodgers’ side a ten match unbeaten run.
1-0 to the Liverpool. If this was during Rafa Benitez’s era, it’ll be deemed as unacceptable, not good enough for an exciting Liverpool team. But this is Rodgers’ team now, on the back of a transition season, looking to push for the top 4 now. And even the most pessimistic of fans will admit, what a start it has been. 6 from 6, six times as many points from the same amount of games last year.
It seems to be a sense of deja vu for the Reds. On the back of intense pressure and some great passing along the midfield, a moment of brilliance from Sturridge gave Liverpool the lead. The buildup was impressive too, with Sturridge being involved in the initial stages of this goal, getting down to the left side channel, before laying it back to Lucas Leiva. The patience in their build-up play was commendable, for so many times the Reds seemed to rush things.
Lucas stuck to his simple yet efficient play style, laying it to the left for full-back Jose Enrique, who did have a good game supporting high thus giving “key master” Philippe Coutinho space to roam inside. Enrique spotted the more infield Coutinho with a nicely weighted pass inside, and the Brazilian’s awareness was what really created the goal.
Even without touching the ball, Coutinho’s brilliance can still be felt, as he dummied to allow the ball to find Sturridge on his right side, and the Englishman’s dancing feet did the rest, skipping past the defender before rounding Villa’s Brad Guzan. He even had the presence of mind to lift it towards the roof of the net to ensure Jores Okore could not clear off the line.
From then on, especially at the 35th minute mark onwards, Liverpool were mostly on the back foot. Most would criticize that Rodgers could not get his team out and get them to play again, but some credit has to be given for the way his side defended and didn’t allow the likes of Gabby Agbonlahor and Andres Weimann space to feed Christian Benteke.
Lucas did his job well again, looking to be back to his best very soon. Very energetic, pressing high up the pitch when required, the Brazilian destroyer tackled well, but to be honest his control while trying to dribble was really slack at times, losing the ball on three occasions when he could have done the simple thing and pass. It did led to some dangerous openings for Villa, and against better quality teams, Liverpool could have been punished there.
Kolo Toure’s continue his impressive start for the club, towering over Benteke at times and giving him little space, though the Belgian got a yard on him and shot once, only to be met by the palms of his fellow Belgium teammate Simon Mignolet.
Mignolet also had another outing between the sticks, saving well from Benteke twice, especially close to the end when the on-form Villa striker got behind Daniel Agger and stung his left palm.
Agger’s added responsibility of being vice-captain seems to be having some negative effect on him. The Dane was caught out on a few occasions, and tried to play the ball one too many times, giving it away as the Villa strike force closed him down.
New signing Iago Aspas still looked to be adjusting to the pace and strength of English football, anonymous most of the game, but did have a nice dummy to allow Glen Johnson in in the middle of the second-half. His sub, Aly Cissokho, making his debut, had a good game covering well for Enrique on the left, giving Rodgers some stability down the left to free Coutinho into the middle. This was definitely a good sub by Rodgers, credit must be given. At that moment in the game, Matt Lowton and then Leandro Bacuna were threatening down Liverpool’s left.
Joe Allen, who came on for a rather subdued Coutinho, really gave nothing, and his notable action was giving Jordan Henderson a loose pass. Allen will need to perform well against Notts County this midweek in the League Cup, as his form really needs some improving there. For Rodgers, another solid win all round.
So before Manchester United next weekend, the Reds will be playing Notts County as mentioned.
It’s more than likely Rodgers will rotate his side, with the big game against United at the weekend in his mind, as well as giving some players some minutes. This team should be able to deal with the League One side.
A much-changed side, but experience will still be there. Rodgers will definitely pick one of Agger or Toure to partner the Martin Skrtel. He’ll have learned from last season’s capitulation by Oldham. Andre Wisdom, rated highly by Rodgers, will get his place at right-back, should he still be at the club then, while Cissokho gets his debut at left-back, just to show Enrique his spot is not as secured as seems. Mignolet might even get a break, giving Brad Jones some game time.
One of Lucas or Steven Gerrard will play too, with a wee bit experience needed there too. He will want Gerrard fit for United, so Lucas should get the first 60 minutes at least. Henderson’s energy and stamina will mean he can start three games in a week, while Allen will get his chance to impress at the head of the diamond, meaning less defensive work for him. If Allen can’t even impress against League One opposition, he will look closer to a 15million flop.
Raheem Sterling’s pace will be helpful against lowly opposition, while he needs some minutes especially since he did not play at all against Villa. Fabio Borini, lacking in confidence but on the back of two goals against United’s U21s, will get his chance to get amongst the goals. Whether he or Aspas gets the centre-forward position will be up to debate, but the Spaniard should also play to have a feel of the more brutal side of English football – even if Stoke last weekend was a pretty good gauge already too.
Unlucky to miss out would be Luis Alberto and Jordan Ibe, but Rodgers should see fit to bring both on irregardless of Liverpool’s position in the game, as they can do a steady midfield role or go on the offensive if somehow the Reds mess this game up. Martin Kelly should see some game time in his road to fitness and form.
Rodgers should just focus on pace and getting in behind Notts County’s defence, with Sterling and possibly Ibe’s pace too much for a League One side to handle. A spot in the next round will be a good tonic before the weekend’s epic clash against United.