Aston Villa vs. Liverpool: Score, Grades and Post-Match Reaction
Liverpool travelled to Aston Villa for the evening kickoff in the Premier League's second week of matches and continued their winning start to the season with a 1-0 victory at Villa Park.
It was the archetypal "game of two halves" as the Reds ran the game in the first 45 before Villa mounted a much more impressive second-half response.
Liverpool dominated the early stages in terms of passing and movement, but they failed to create many real chances on goal thanks to Villa's good organisation and solid defensive lines. A diagonal run from Daniel Sturridge opened them up and though he failed to get a shot away, it was a sign of the danger to come.
Twenty minutes into the game it was a diagonal cross from Jose Enrique that found Sturridge on the edge of the area, and some superb technique from the striker saw him evade two defenders and the goalkeeper before finishing high into the net for the opening goal.
The interplay and movement between Sturridge, Coutinho and Iago Aspas in particular was again causing Liverpool's opponents trouble in terms of closing down and keeping the ball themselves—the Reds had 62 percent possession at half-time—but Brad Guzan didn't have too much else to do.
It was in fact Aston Villa that came closest to netting another goal before half-time, though their first meaningful attacks didn't take place until the last five minutes of the first 45.
Christian Benteke spun on the ball after a corner and forced a good fingertip save from Simon Mignolet, before Andi Weimann saw his shot from the edge of the area deflected just over the crossbar, but Liverpool were full value for their 1-0 half-time lead.
After the break it was largely one-way traffic toward the same goalmouth, with Villa looking much stronger on and off the ball.
Fabian Delph became a key fixture in the home team's efforts to get back in the game, outrunning Liverpool's lethargic midfield as the game wore on and spreading passes to both flanks in an attempt to work some space.
Lucas Leiva in particular in the Reds midfield committed error after error, giving Villa the room to run in behind him and conceding possession cheaply, but he was far from the only sinner in this regard.
Even so, Mignolet had little to do for much of the half until he almost sliced the ball into his own net after a firm back pass from Daniel Agger. The Belgian goalkeeper redeemed himself with a magnificent save from a Benteke shot in the final minutes, and Liverpool were thereafter able to see out the game to claim a hard-fought, but impressive nonetheless, three points.
There was almost time for a second goal from the penalty spot after Guzan brought down Sturridge on the counter—but the referee deemed the Villa keeper to have touched the ball before the striker.
Key Player Grades
Christian Benteke: B
A very quiet start was compounded by some errors in controlling the ball, but he remained Villa's biggest threat with his shot near the end of the first half.
Benteke had Villa's best chance to snatch a point with his volley from inside the penalty area late on, but was thwarted by Mignolet.
Daniel Sturridge: B+
Having scored from range last week, Sturridge showed a very different side to his goalscoring capabilities with a great dribble and finish against Villa. His movement was the big difference between a dominant but ultimately fruitless first-half performance from Liverpool.
A quiet second half saw Sturridge take up plenty of good positions and get through an awful lot of running, with scant reward as a result of Liverpool's carelessness in possession.
Fabian Delph: B+
Villa were far better after the break and much was because of the efforts of Delph. The midfielder worked tirelessly, chased Liverpool in possession and distributed it largely well to his own teammates. He continues to mature as part of Villa's midfield and has a big season ahead if he can maintain consistency.
Villa have now taken three points from three games but, given their opponents, will probably see it as a decent start anyway. Certainly their performances point to an improved season compared to last year. They are off next weekend after having played twice in the first gameweek.
Liverpool have won two on the bounce from the start of the season for the first time in five years and will now look ahead to stretching that run—at home against Manchester United.
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