For the third season running, Brendan Rodgers fails to find a way to beat Aston Villa, and for the second time in that same stretch, Paul Lambert comes away the victor. His Villa side were organized and resolute after stealing an early goal, and they managed to keep their hosts from creating much of anything going forward in earning all three points. This is the comedown after the optimism post-Spurs, but there's little time for mourning, as the Champions League now beckons in three days' time.
Aston Villa 1: Agbonlahor 9'
A handful of Anfield debuts were on the cards for Rodgers' Liverpool today, with starts given to Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, and Mario Balotelli up front and Alberto Moreno at the back. Raheem Sterling dropped out in favor of Markovic, joining Rickie Lambert and Fabio Borini on the bench, while Philippe Coutinho was restored to the starting eleven along with Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson to round out the front six, while Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho partnered in central defense with Javier Manquillo opposite Moreno at right-back.
An exciting lineup for Liverpool, but one that stumbled out of the gates and was bettered by their guests within ten minutes. Calamitous defending on a set-piece left Gaby Agbonlahor with a free toe-poke in front of goal from six yards out, and Villa took a 1-0 lead on nine minutes. It should have been two just a few minutes later, as Philippe Senderos--who should have been off later in the half for at least one of the two needless fouls on Mario Balotelli, which was an unfortunate trend on the day--missed a free header from another set-piece, this after Lallana was booked for a reckless challenge.
Villa's pressure subsided after the first fifteen or twenty minutes, and from there they were content to sit back and wait for the break. Chances never really came again, but with Liverpool so abysmal in possession, they didn't really need to. Few opportunities were created by the hosts across the 90 minutes, and those that did were woefully off-target aside from Coutinho's missile off the post in the second half and a Lallana half-volley that was pulled wide. Liverpool dominated the ball but looked as though they had absolutely no idea what to do with it, and with Villa content to sit back, it was a matter of whether or not Liverpool could ever break them down.
They didn't, and it was three points deservedly dropped.
It was a shapeless, formless, mindless, write-off of a performance from Liverpool, who looked lost without Raheem Sterling in the starting eleven and had a hell of a time matching Villa's early energy. So often last season we saw Liverpool blow the doors off their opponents at Anfield, but this time around it was the visitors on the front foot, and between Liverpool's lack of urgency and the complete inability to find their footing at the attacking end, Villa were deserved winners.
But good lord Liverpool were bad for long stretches of the match. Aimless shots that never really tested Brad Guzan, one-man breaks that fizzled out because of a lack of support or no final ball, shoddy positioning defensively (once again by Dejan Lovren, primarily)that let the opposition into far more dangerous areas than their play deserved--this performance had it all, and all of it pretty much stank.
It wasn't as though the individuals were entirely awful, though. Lovren was again subpar, but most others were a few clicks away from decently sufficient mediocrity. It was just that there were so many individuals out there that nobody really knew what to do outside of themselves. There was no clever interplay, no linking to positive effective, no flowing football to wear down the opposition.
That needs changing, and quickly. Liverpool can't afford a repeat as they work their way through the weeks leading into the next international break, and hopefully we start to see signs of recovery on Tuesday in the Champions League opener against Ludogorets.