A draw after trailing by two goals and producing one of the worst 45 minutes of football in awhile isn't necessarily something to turn down, but it's also not something to be proud of. Liverpool were atrocious in the opening half and improved in the second, and most of it was down to the infuriating decisions made by Brendan Rodgers to start the match.
Liverpool 2: Sturridge 45'+2', Gerrard (pen.) 53'
Aston Villa 2: Weimann 25', Benteke 36'
There was little to do other than chuckle nervously at the eleven Rodgers selected; Lucas dropped out in favor of Daniel Sturridge, leaving only Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in the midfield and what amounted to four up front, with Philippe Coutinho and Raheem Sterling providing support for Sturridge and Luis Suarez. The defensive unit was unchanged, but with a setup like that, defense was always going to be an afterthought, as was the midfield.
And wouldn't you know it, Aston Villa came out and completely dominated, looking the only side worth scoring until they did--on the counter-attack, naturally--in the 25th minute. Liverpool caught forward, Villa break, Agbonlahor outpaces his man, and slides an easy ball along the turf for Andreas Weimann, who coasted in front of Gerrard a few feet in front of goal to tap in for the 1-0 lead.
It should have been more prior to that point, with last ditch defending by the hosts and the post conspiring against the visitors to keep the match close. It extended to two with just over ten minutes later, with Simon Mignolet flapping at an outswinging cross from Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke left alone by Glen Johnson. 2-0 and Villa were coasting.
Luckily Liverpool cut the lead to one in first-half injury time, with Jordan Henderson backheeling Sturridge into space and the striker getting his second goal in as many matches since coming back from injury. Lucas came on to start the second half, shoring up the midfield and giving Liverpool more control in the match, and they were level on 53 minutes via a Gerrard penalty. Suarez won the spot kick after falling easily under pressure from Brad Guzan; the Villa goalkeeper closed quickly but tried to pull back at the final moment, and Suarez left a trailing leg as he fell to the turf.
Things settled from there, with Lucas suffering a knee injury and Joe Allen coming on to serve a similar function deeper in the midfield, albeit in a less effective capacity. Any sense of urgency was sapped out of the match over the course of the next half-hour, with few chances at either end until the dying minutes and the points ultimately shared.
Brendan Rodgers' managerial tenure is increasingly defined by what he does with Steven Gerrard in the latter stages of his career, and the first half again underlined that the second-year boss is completely failing in that regard. He is a smart man and a solid tactician, but his decision-making when it comes to his captain is utterly farcical. Gerrard is not and cannot be a deep-lying playmaker, especially in a two-man midfield, and Rodgers' insistence on trying to make him something he's not is hurting Liverpool.
To his credit he made the switch at half-time everyone was begging for, but Lucas' addition was unfortunately short-lived, and hopefully whatever sort of injury he incurred comes with a short layoff. It's blindingly obvious that Liverpool were far better with him present, as they were with a little less control after Allen came on, and Rodgers cannot afford to set the team up the same way he did today again if Liverpool are going to hang around.
There wasn't much to be positive about throughout the side; nobody at the back was close to convincing, with each culpable at one time or another for nervy moments and Mignolet whiffing helplessly on Villa's second. The midfield doesn't need any more attention, while up front Philippe Coutinho continued his downward trend and none of Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge, nor Raheem Sterling were able to influence the match consistently.
In the end it made for a disappointing two points lost and one of the least impressive performances at Anfield this season, and that so many of Liverpool's struggles early were self-inflicted makes it worse. Their successes earlier in the season mean they've got plenty of time to recover as long as today's tough lessons sink in.