Liverpool dominated in terms of possession and scoring chances, but the host team ultimately didn't capitalize. That proved to be the difference in the Reds' nightmare 3-1 loss to Aston Villa in Saturday's critical English Premier League fixture at Anfield.
With just one loss in their previous 11 matches in league play, it made the letdown by the Reds all the more stunning. Entering the match, the Lions had been barely hanging on outside the bottom three in the EPL for the second season in a row.
That makes these three points such a bonus for Villa as they look to maintain their EPL status, while the result is undoubtedly a massive disappointment for the Reds.
Largely to thank for the upset road victory for Aston Villa is Christian Benteke, who was unquestionably the man of the match. The striker got the Lions on the scoreboard first from 22 yards out in the 29th minute. Benteke's beautiful shot that barely left the ground glanced off the post and past Reds goalkeeper Jose Reina.
Benteke was far from done, too, and Connor McNamara of the BBC had high praise for the talented 22-year-old:
Christian Benteke is like a stable Mario Balotelli.— Conor McNamara (@ConorMcNamaraIE) December 15, 2012
The Reds nearly responded in the 32nd minute, when Luis Suarez maneuvered his way into the box, only to drill it off the side of the net. From a certain angle, it appeared to be a goal, but it was unfortunately just that kind of day for the hosts.
After Liverpool blew that opportunity, the club began to lose its ability to generate legitimate chances, which led to more brilliance from Benteke.
Andreas Weimann and Benteke played a brilliant two-man game, as Weimann set up a pass to the right side of the pitch that Benteke redirected back to his teammate off his heel and between two Liverpool defenders. Weimann then drove a low shot to the far side just underneath the sprawling Reina to give Villa a commanding 2-0 advantage at the half.
The Sports Jokes Twitter page (@FootballFunnys), decided to poke a little bit of fun at Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers, who implored his team to shoot extremely high in the Premier League table earlier in the week:
Brendan Rodgers on Friday: "We can finish 2nd." Saturday: Liverpool 0-2 Aston Villa.— Sport Jokes (@FootballFunnys) December 15, 2012
At 51', the match turned into even more of a lopsided affair, courtesy of another Benteke goal, as he skirted into the Reds' box far too easily and pushed another past Reina.
The Reds never could respond, as they were blindsided by the blitz of the big Belgian Benteke and failed to muster any semblance of an attack of their own.
Credit also has to be given to the Lions' defense, which held its ground against several golden Liverpool opportunities and obviously benefited from Benteke and Co.'s impeccable efficiency on the other end of the pitch. A goal in the 87th minute by Steven Gerrard was hardly any consolation for the Reds.
Here are some player grades from this shocking Saturday result.
Christian Benteke: A+
What more can be said about the man of the match? Benteke was simply brilliant, and the Liverpool defenders had no answers for him all afternoon. He had a hand in all three of the Lions' goals, and is well-deserving of the highest possible acclaim.
Brad Guzan: A-
The Villa goalkeeper maintained a clean sheet for nearly the entire day against eight Liverpool shots on goal, also benefiting from outstanding defense by Nathan Baker.
Guzan prevented many of the Reds' bids to score by diffusing the play entirely, breaking up multiple sets and showing outstanding anticipation and composure in the midst of the desperate Liverpool strikers trying to get their side back into the match.
Steven Gerrard: B-
It was a disappointing showing from the Liverpool attack, as Suarez couldn't generate anything as the catalyst. But Gerrard finally executed very late, finding the net at 88', which was about the only solace the Reds could take on the afternoon. It was a lackluster day for the Liverpool defense, no doubt, but the club had ample chances to get on the board early to change the momentum—and failed to do so.
Martin Skrtel: D
It was a tough day for Liverpool on defense, but particularly for Skrtel. He was late getting to a ball that Benteke redirected to Weimann for the beautiful second goal, and was fooled by Benteke in the second half, ultimately leading to Villa's third goal.