It’s funny to think that Daniel Sturridge might have been the odd man out in the Liverpool striker situation considering his prolific start to the season while Luis Suarez is out, suspended. On the other end of the pitch, another recent signing, Simon Mignolet, is making up for his transfer fee and for the man he replaced between the posts after only two matches.
Even though 1-0 wins aren’t what you like to see from a team that’s supposed to be playing a better brand of soccer, Liverpool aren’t a team with the privilege of complaining about quality at this point. Winning their first two matches? Not conceding in them? These things don’t happen too often for a side that’s always been labeled as a disappointment this early in the season for the last few seasons.
Daniel Sturridge isn’t lighting the field up, but he’s coming up with impressive finishes. This time it was off some clever passing and feigning, leaving him to beat Brad Guzan in the box and take an uncomfortable shot with his left foot to put Liverpool deservedly ahead in the first half, which was about Liverpool dominating the pitch, squeezing the life out of Aston Villa’s excuse for a passing game and making it look like it’s not going to be a very difficult afternoon.
Kolo Toure was handling Benteke very well, and there wasn’t much else Villa were offering. Steven Gerrard was doing a fantastic job in the middle of the pitch, just ahead of Lucas, allowing Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas to create some dangerous situations near the box, although rarely did it end with an actual shot on goal.
The second half was very different, and it highlighted the amazing piece of business Liverpool made when they let Pepe Reina go to Napoli, bringing in Simon Mignolet instead. It’s too early to call the Belgian a legend or a great goalkeeper, but he’s certainly earned quite a few praises. First vs Stoke, and then again vs Villa with some fantastic leaps and saves, usually stopping Benteke, whose strength in the second half seemed a bit too much for Liverpool to handle.
The way the Reds were pushed back had to be quite worrying for Rodgers, who saw nothing of the pass-and-move he is trying his team to perform automatically during the second half. Gerrard fell back to help Lucas, and there was no connection with the forwards, as Philippe Coutinho was suffocated either on the left or in the middle; Jordan Henderson was too busy filling defensive roles, and using him on the right wing never gets the best out of him, while Iago Aspas was the weakest player on the pitch, playing behind Sturridge in a position he probably shouldn’t be in.
The substitutions made late in the match relieved some of the pressure, with Aly Cissokho bringing some speed and power to the left wing which forced Villa to spread out a bit more. Liverpool played with no natural wingers but stood out too wide during the second half, leaving their players, who need to be closer together, isolated and close to useless.
It’s important to remain grounded for a club aching for success, as the two wins over Villa and Stoke are after all six points against mid-table teams at best. And yet even without their best player, Liverpool are showing qualities that were missing in previous seasons, and might be here to stay for more than just the opening.