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Liverpool 2, Aston Villa 2: First Thoughts

That was... disappointing.

Michael Regan

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Liverpool 2 Sturridge 45' + 2, Gerrard pen 53'
Aston Villa 2 Weimann 25', Benteke 36'

  • The opening of the match was almost all Villa, and man was it terrifying. They took advantage of a nearly-immobile Steven Gerrard play-acting as a holding midfielder early and often, and it made for a heart attack inducing affair for Liverpool fans.

  • There was some contention over an early Liverpool free kick, with the delivery in to the box striking Leandro Bacuna in the arm. It went uncalled, but it appeared as though the referee may have not had a great view of the incident. That said, there was a corner called, so obviously he was aware of some form of contact with a Villa player. It's not a penalty you often see called so early in a match, though, so it may not have mattered even if the ref did actually see it.

  • If Steven Gerrard can't even function as the deepest midfielder against a Villa side that didn't really employ much of a midfield, can we just end this experiment now?

  • Villa's midfield was vaguely Stoke-esque in the first half. At least they were getting called on it more than Stoke does, but it still hurt to watch knowing how thin the depth chart is right now.

  • The opening goal saw Villa just decimate Liverpool on a counter. Glen Johnson got shredded by Gabby Agbonlahor, Kolo Toure got caught upfield and couldn't get back in time to do more than slow Agbonlahor down near the byline, and Gerrard ran blindly to the far post instead of tracking Andreas Weimann's run to the center of goal, and the Austrian striker was left with a simple finish from Agbonlahor's cross. Yay.

  • Villa managed to completely choke off any space for Luis Suarez, and largely hacked away at him when he did manage to get on the ball. He spent much of the first half in obvious frustration, and it did not do the side any favors.

  • Villa's second goal was... something. Aly Cissokho got burned down the left, and Johnson's aimless jogging in the box set Christian Benteke free with acres of space in front of goal. Yes, Simon Mignolet should have done better either by actually making contact with the cross or by staying on his line, but if Johnson actually bothers to mark Benteke that goal doesn't happen. No matter what your 'keeper does, you cannot give a striker of Benteke's quality that kind of space near goal or you are begging to get burned.

  • Fortunately for Liverpool, Daniel Sturridge was able to find the back of the net to keep the home side in the match just before halftime. Suarez, who had been dropping deeper off the front line to make Liverpool's shape more of a 4-2-3-1, finally found some space at the top of the box, and he combined with a Jordan Henderson backheel flick to find Sturridge dashing towards the far post. His finish was made simply, but it wasn't an easy goal as he was facing down a charging Brad Guzan and a challenge from a Villa defender as he took his shot.

  • Rodgers made a big shift at the half, pulling off a mostly-ineffective Philippe Coutinho in favor of Lucas Leiva's defensive steel. The change was noticeable quickly, with Villa's forays through the middle of the pitch that they'd found so much success with in the first half suddenly finding no space to develop. It also pushed Gerrard up the pitch, giving him more attacking responsibility and letting the shield of Lucas and the running of Sterling and Henderson aid him somewhat.

  • I'm sure every Liverpool fan took the equalizer gladly, but that was not a penalty. Brad Guzan made a terrible decision to go down in front of Suarez to try and nick the ball, and Suarez took full advantage of a minimum amount of contact to earn a penalty call. Credit to Gerrard for delivering a lovely ball for Suarez to latch on to in the box, though, and for putting a good finish on his penalty.

  • I'm not sure what happened to him at halftime, but Cissokho was dreadful in the second half. He consistently failed to get back on defense, leading to some frightening counters down his flank, and when he was actively defending (usually on set pieces), his movement was poor and his "clearances" were worse. In attack, the side lost all momentum every time they wanted to go to the left, often having to wait for him to catch up. With Jose Enrique and Jon Flanagan still out, that's not a good thing to see, in any way.

  • Lucas getting hurt is just the worst thing.

  • That Henderson shot at 65 minutes was just.... mmmmmm. A low, driving shot towards the far post that Guzan had to make a fantastic save on to keep out, and even then he could only parry it away.

  • Bringing on Joe Allen for the injured Lucas had a notable effect on the side. While defensively things still looked OK, the attacking balance that had developed was lost, with Gerrard dropping deeper again, allowing Villa to focus on cutting of the space Sturridge and Suarez had been finding earlier in the half. It was such a lovely twenty minutes of competency, too.

  • Suarez did have a magnificent chance later in the half, with a free kick in the 76th minute just whizzing past the top corner. It would have been a strike worthy of goal of the week consideration had it gone in.

  • Liverpool had one last gasp at a winner late in added time, but Gerrard somehow managed to cut off Suarez' run at the edge of the box. Yep.

  • When you can say that you were fortunate to draw with Aston Villa at home, something has gone horribly, horribly wrong, and that's exactly what happened today.

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We'll be back shortly to take an in-depth look at everything that happened in today's game with the full recap. Until then, let us know your take on the ups and downs of the match in the comments, and if you haven't already, join the community on the Liverpool Offside, where we'll have full coverage and lively in-game discussion for every match this season.

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