Liverpool vs. Aston Villa: 6 Things We Learned in Heavy Defeat
Liverpool suffered their heaviest home defeat of the season, 3-1, to Aston Villa in the Premier League, and it was another day of timely reminders to Brendan Rodgers that his side are a long way from where they want to be.
Having won back-to-back league games against Southampton and West Ham, the Reds would have been confident going into the first of two home games in a row and looking for maximum points against a side struggling away from home this year.
The Reds certainly started the better team and came close to creating great scoring chances, but it was Villa who were suddenly almost out of sight with two goals in 10 minutes from Christian Benteke and Andreas Weimann.
A third straight after the break killed the game despite a late header from Steven Gerrard.
Here are six things Brendan Rodgers can take note of from the defeat.
Horrible Day in Defence
Oh dear. After three clean sheets in five games, it was beginning to look like Liverpool had sorted out their defensive problems from earlier in the season, but the match against Aston Villa was just poor all round.
The Reds didn't even have that much to deal with—but when Villa attacked at pace, some of those defending looked utterly helpless.
Pepe Reina might have been unsighted for the opener, a strike from distance by Christian Benteke, but he would have been expected to do better with the shot. For the next goal, the Belgian striker combined brilliantly with Andreas Weimann, but nobody tracked the forward's run from the middle into the penalty box.
Benteke's second was just awful all round, as Joe Cole lost the ball, Joe Allen failed to challenge effectively, Skrtel made a wrong decision and Liverpool were carved open.
Not the best display at the back from the home side.
29 Shots, Yet Brad Guzan Didn't Have a Difficult Save to Make
Statistics tell you plenty about the game, but not all of it is true.
For example, Liverpool had 72 percent of the possession and 29 shots against Aston Villa—from that you might conclude that they were by far the better, more dangerous and creative team.
They certainly played better in spells, but they weren't dangerous at the vital moments. Liverpool came very close to great scoring chances a number of times in the first half; Suarez almost set Gerrard through for a one-on-one, for example, with no Aston Villa defender in sight.
Jonjo Shelvey almost had an open sight of goal, too—but delayed, and the block was made.
But a constant stream of missed opportunities to get clear shots away meant that it was late in the game before Villa keeper Brad Guzan really had anything of note to do in the match, and Gerrard's equalising goal came after 87 minutes—too late to build on.
For all their approach work and up-tempo game early on, Liverpool had nothing of substance to test the goalkeeper with for too much of the game.
No Options off the Bench; Suso out of Favour?
Trailing 2-0 at the half-time break, Brendan Rodgers opted to bring on Joe Cole for Jonjo Shelvey in an attempt to have the ball in more dangerous areas up front. Jordan Henderson also came on to replace Lucas, still feeling his way back into first-team football, after an hour or so.
It's well documented that Liverpool have very few attacking options to consider, which makes the unexplained and continued absence of Oussama Assaidi all the more surprising, but the Reds still only made two changes in the game as they chased a result.
Suso sat for 90 minutes, waiting for a call which never came.
Only a month or so ago, the youngster was still starting in the Premier League, but he has not figured in Brendan Rodgers' league sides since being substituted in the first half against Wigan Athletic in November.
The creative Spaniard perhaps might have given the Reds the better technical quality in the final third that they lacked against Villa, perhaps not. But it will be a disappointment to the player not to get a chance to show his worth either way with the side underperforming and chasing the game.
Should Liverpool Have Matched Up to Villa's Formation?
Given Liverpool's impressive opening to the game, where, with a little more quality in the final third, they might have easily gone two goals ahead very quickly, it could seem a little hindsight-reliant to ask questions of the starting team sheet.
The Reds did come out of the blocks quickly, but when they went behind and it was apparent that Villa were causing problems on the break and the wide forwards were contributing very little to Liverpool's attack, perhaps there was an opportunity to alter the system.
Rodgers has his preferred formation for the team right now, and rightly so, but he has shown beforehand that he will switch it to suit the situation when necessary.
Matching Villa up in a 3-5-2, which the Reds have played three times at various stages of games this season, would have allowed Sterling to try and get beyond Villa's central defenders.
The three of them played very close together, with the wing-backs tucked in too, which made it hard for Shelvey and Sterling to find room down the channels between them.
An extra central defender would have given a little more security against the counterattacks too, while Gerrard and Allen might have been able to have more influence in the opposition penalty area.
As it was, when that impact finally came from the skipper, it was too late.
Christian Benteke Shows Suarez the Way to Goal
Christian Benteke was the big difference in the sides at the attacking ends of the pitch.
While Liverpool peppered the Villa goal with a series of weak, inaccurate or hopeful shots, Benteke showed a little bit of opportunism and a lot of strength to hit two goals from three shots.
He took his total to five league goals for the season, helping Villa to a big three points in the process.
Meanwhile for Luis Suarez and Liverpool, the goals have dried up after a great scoring start to the campaign. The forward had seven attempts for the Reds on the day but failed to really cause Brad Guzan any serious problems.
He has now not scored for a month since his brace against Wigan in the league, though with 10 Premiership goals to his name, he is still comfortably the Reds' biggest goal threat.
Liverpool need Suarez to re-find his shooting boots for next week's game against Fulham.
Big Missed Opportunity for Liverpool
Having won successive league games and seeing the top four spots in the league only four points above Liverpool at the start of play, manager Brendan Rodgers was talking bullishly about aiming higher over the course of the season:
We are 11 points off second so, if we can get some consistency, keep our mentality and our focus then it is not fourth place we want to aim for. We still have to play Manchester City and we should have beaten them at home. You want to aim as high as you possibly can but, of course, when the club has been out of the top four for so long, that is the ultimate ambition.
Of course, two home games in a row would have been looked at as key to confirming those ambitions as realistic, with six points the absolute requirement.
Defeat at home to Villa has put paid to any such hopes, and Liverpool need to ensure they get back on track in the next game to avoid losing further ground on those above them.
Rodgers might have been speaking in terms of what the overall aims at the club are, not just the most immediate future hopes, but results like the one against Aston Villa will reinforce the notion that there is still a long way to go to get the club back amongst those top two or three teams.
Statistics from WhoScored.com