Liverpool did just enough to hold off an improved second-half performance from Aston Villa to make it two wins out of two to start their Premier League season, with a 1-0 win at Villa Park. As against Stoke last week, Liverpool started brightly and went in front midway through the opening period off another fine strike by Daniel Sturridge. The Reds were unable to build on that lead, though, and by the end were very much hanging on as Villa pressured.
After impressive away performances in beating Arsenal 3-1 and only controversially losing 2-1 to Chelsea in midweek, their appeared to be plenty of fatigue involved in Villa’s flat first-half showing. Liverpool, with Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho again dangerous early on, took advantage, but lacked a cutting edge for much of the encounter. And when Villa upped their game in the second half, it required a rearguard effort from Liverpool to prevent the home side form getting the point they arguably deserved. For the second week running, after saving a late penalty against Stoke, Brendan Rodgers can also be thankful for his new goalkeeper as Simon Mignolet produced a fine save in the final five minutes to deny Christian Benteke.
After their strong showings away from home, Villa almost appeared to willfully submit to playing off the back foot early on, despite being in front of their home fans. Liverpool dominated the opening exchanges by showcasing their ability to keep the ball. There wasn’t quite the same attacking threat they displayed in their opening 1-0 win over Stoke City, but the movement and interchange of their attacking talent soon came to the fore to provide the opening goal after 22 minutes.
After a long spell of possession, in which Villa, were unable to get tight to their opponents, Jose Enrique aimed a pass into the edge of the area intended for Philippe Coutinho. The Brazilian showed his talent with a step-over to allow Sturridge to receive the ball and after some superb footwork to get past defender and then goalkeeper he produced a far from simple finish into the roof of the net and over the covering defenders.
With a goal advantage, Liverpool could settle even more into their easy passing rhythm. The onus was not on Villa to take the initiative and as the half progressed they gradually got a foothold and looked to be more ambitious about getting men forward. Still, they lacked the dynamism of their previous outings. Benteke worked Mignolet for the first time in the evening five minutes before the break when he held off Kolo Toure, turned and put in a good curling effort that Liverpool’s new stopper got across well to turn away.
Paul Lambert certainly appeared to have a positive impact on his players at half-time and his side came out with increased intensity. It was now Liverpool being forced back as the home side probed in search of an equalizer. Rodgers’s concern at the altered dynamic of the encounter was shown when new loan signing from Aly Cissokho, a left-back by trade, was brought on to replace Iago Aspas.
Villa’s midfield three was now far more purposeful, with Fabian Delph, in particular, trying to make something happen and Antonio Luna again displaying his willingness to attack and providing an outlet down the left. Still, Liverpool, with Steven Gerrard doing a disciplined job in front of the back four, were largely closing any gaps for Villa to penetrate. One of the better openings came after a good spell of possession that saw Toure only head a cross straight down to the edge of the box, but Agbonlahor couldn’t take advantage as he drilled a volley wide of the post.
The golden chance, though, fell for Benteke and he could have done little more with Toure doing well to apply pressure and was left frustrated by Liverpool’s former Sunderland keeper. Liverpool will argue too that the scoreline could even have been more comfortable had they been given a penalty when Brad Guzan appeared to take down Sturridge in the box. Yet, after so often failing to get the points the balance of play warranted last season, Rodgers will no doubt reflect kindly on two opening wins that could easily have ended differently.