Archive for the ‘Liverpool’ tag
by Richard Rae
That Liverpool would win this game was, given the teams’ respective form going into the match, very much to be expected. Less expected was the comfort with which they would do so. Managers may constantly insist there are no easy games in the Premier League but this was as straightforward a victory as the Reds will enjoy this season.
The only downside, from the point of view of Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, was his side’s failure to take more than two of the many chances they created against a Villa side that looked bereft of confidence, as well as their two England strikers. In the circumstances their failure to test the visitors’ defence was understandable: their manifest defensive frailty was not.
Already missing the suspended Gabby Agbonlahor, Villa manager Alex McLeish could have done without losing his other England international forward, Darren Bent, to a hip problem. In their absence McLeish gave Emile Heskey a start against his former club, playing up front alongside Nathan Delfouneso.
The Liverpool line-up was also changed, Dalglish bringing in Craig Bellamy and Jonjo Shelvey for Maxi Rodriguez and Dirk Kuyt, a selection that was amply justified after just 11 minutes.
It was already apparent that the extra man in midfield was giving the visitors more options when Stewart Downing, the manner of whose leaving Villa for Liverpool last summer ensured he was booed by the home fans from the start, won a corner on the right. Downing took it and his low, swinging delivery was flicked towards goal by Shelvey. Luis Suarez’s attempt to touch the ball home was blocked by Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan but the rebound was turned in by Bellamy.
It was a poor goal to concede from a defensive point of view — three times in the Villa penalty area, Liverpool players had been first to the ball — but not as poor as Liverpool’s second four minutes later. Again Bellamy was involved, this time taking a corner from the left that Martin Skrtel, whose simple run towards the near post was enough to confuse both Richard Dunne and Alan Hutton, to glance a header neatly beyond Guzan and into the top corner.
The reaction of the home fans was one of resignation as much as anger, but the response on the field was a little more positive. Charles N’Zogbia, drifting into a central position, drove a clean shot a foot over Pepe Reina’s bar before again making the Liverpool goalkeeper scramble with a shot into the side-netting. Delfouneso then met a Marc Albrighton free kick on the six-yard line only to fail to keep his header down, but Villa were up against the team with the best defensive record in the Premier League this season and as half-time approached, Liverpool’s sense of comfort was obvious.
With a relatively inexperienced bench highlighting his club’s lack of playing resources, McLeish made no changes at half-time and almost saw his team go three down within less than a minute of the restart. Bellamy’s firmly driven cross from the left cleared the final defender but the stretching Daniel Agger, arriving in at the far post, could not get his header on target.
Villa’s defending did not improve. First Hutton gave the ball away to Bellamy, and then Dunne, having apparently got to the resulting pass into the penalty area ahead of Suarez, allowed the Uruguyan to steal it back. Suarez then cut easily inside James Collins, but with only Guzan to beat, smashed his shot against the underside of the bar.
Stephen Warnock was the next Villa defender to give the ball away, and again his side was lucky not to be punished, Guzan diving to his right to keep out Glen Johnson’s shot. Suarez, who compared with his teammates had been looking a little out of sorts from the start, produced an outstanding piece of skill to chip Guzan only to see the ball come back off the inside of the post. It was the 17th occasion Liverpool had hit the woodwork this season.
With the game in danger of becoming a procession. Shelvey brought another diving save from Guzan, and Charlie Adam, with Shelvey unmarked to his right, saw a goal-bound shot deflected just wide.
Aware of many tougher battles to come, Liverpool eased off. Villa’s third defeat in four home matches, lifting their visitors to sixth in the league table, had been long since assured.
Aston Villa: Guzan, Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Albrighton, Delph (Weimann 80min), Petrov, N’Zogbia, Heskey (Bannan 56min), Delfouneso
Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Enrique, Downing, Adam, Shelvey (Carragher 83min), Henderson, Bellamy (Kuyt 88min), Suarez (Carroll 73min)
Originally published in The Sunday Times on Sunday 18 December 2011.