Following Liverpool’s important 2-0 success over Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon, Ben Twelves picks five discussion topics from the fixture.
Brendan Rodgers’ rejuvenated Liverpool continued their improvement of form on Saturday afternoon when the Reds recorded a dominant 2-0 victory at Villa Park as they look to drag themselves back into top four contention.
Fabio Borini opened the scoring after 24 minutes when he converted from Jordan Henderson’s dangerous cross into the corridor of uncertainty, and Liverpool controlled for the vast majority of the first half with Aston Villa lost for ideas against an impressively strong Reds back line.
The home side rallied for a brief spell in the second period, but after replacing Borini, Rickie Lambert notched his second league goal of the season with a crisp strike that fizzed into the far corner of the net to double the away side’s advantage and hand Liverpool maximum points.
Rodgers: I thought we were very complete today in our performance.
— This Is Anfield (@thisisanfield) January 17, 2015
It was another welcome three points for the Reds with the only downer being that results elsewhere didn’t fall in favour, and here are five talking points from the win.
Captain’s performance from Jordan Henderson
The energetic midfielder took a giant leap in convincing those unsure of his credentials to take on the captain’s armband full-time as he guided the Reds to victory with a dominant performance.
Henderson displayed real leadership in the middle of the immaculate Villa Park pitch – constantly barking at and instructing those in yellow shirts, demanding more of his teammates throughout – and alongside his off-the-ball work, the 24-year-old proved a key figure in possession too.
#LFC assists this season (all comps):
Lallana & Coutinho 3
— Andrew Beasley (@BassTunedToRed) January 17, 2015
The current vice-captain was composed throughout – keeping the ball completing 84% of his passes – and Henderson once again provided the creative spark for Rodgers’ side, as he created three chances and claimed an outstanding assist for Borini’s opener – controlling superbly with the outside of his right foot before sending a teasing ball across the box which the Italian gratefully stabbed home.
It was a real influential performance from the future captain which won the plaudits of the travelling Kop who chanted his name as a result.
Bold substitutes pay-off for Brendan
With Liverpool in the lead and coasting, Paul Lambert’s side upped the ante at the beginning of the second period as they attempted to drag themselves back into the game, but Rodgers responded well making clever substitutions with two in particular.
Villa sensed opportunity down the Liverpool left where problems were starting to be caused as Alberto Moreno’s bypassing led to Mamadou Sakho being dragged into uncomfortable positions, and Rodgers responded sharply introducing the more defensive Enrique, who offered a better protection and helped cut the building supply.
That was one problem addressed, but Liverpool struggled to conjure up the same attacking threat going forward as Borini failed to provide the outlet needed, and the Liverpool boss pulled no punches again as he subbed the goal-scorer – who seemed frustrated at the decision- for the England striker, who displayed some nice touches before firing the Reds into a 2-0 lead to wrap up the game.
Borini and Lambert utilised & rewarded
Both match winners have had to be patient over the season with minutes limited and sporadic involvement in the team, but Borini and Lambert proved they can be of use when deployed properly and both deserve credit for their respecetive roles in the Reds attack in the victory.
The Italian international worked hard with the support of Sterling and Coutinho for 70 minutes, showing some nice touches but frustrating moments too, but he got his rewards as he registered himself on the score-sheet before a downturn in performance level saw Lambert enter at the right time for the last 20 minutes of the game.
first time that a Liverpool substitute has scored in the league since Coutinho against QPR on October 19.
— nate (@natefc) January 17, 2015
The boy-hood Red impressed in his cameo role – helping relieve pressure at key moments – and he sealed the win with an excellent turn and finish as the 32-year-old showed what he can offer when used correctly and in the right situation.
Raheem Sterling Rusty on Return
Sterling regained his place in the starting XI after a well-deserved break last week but it wasn’t a comeback to remember for the 20-year-old.
Should be 2-0. Sterling bursts clear but tries to lob Guzan and tamely dinks it straight at the keeper. Big waste. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) January 17, 2015
Playing in an attacking midfield role rather than as the out-and-out striker, Sterling was out of form by his usual standards as he was slow in possession and unaware throughout – losing the ball a number of times – and his touch evaded him at key moments – as well as his finishing – as Brad Guzan made an easy save from a poorly chipped effort when one-on-one.
To his credit, the refreshed England man continued the unappreciated side to his game as he worked hard throughout, still provided a threat going forward – grabbing an assist for Lambert’s match sealer – and never hid even though he endured a difficult afternoon before being taken off for Jordon Ibe.
Sterling has work to do to find his feet again though in the coming games in order to recapture the devastating sharpness that saw him become an integral part of the Liverpool team.
Defensive Solidity & Clean sheet
The switch to the 3-4-2-1 formation has rightly received plaudits for reigniting the Liverpool attack but the change of shape has also seen an upturn in defensive displays which continued again at in the Midlands.
Rodgers’ men recorded a third clean sheet in five Premier League matches and the vast improvement comes in no small part to the excellence of Emre Can and Sakho either side of Martin Skrtel, who has become a far more composed figure at the heart of the Liverpool back line with the calming pair alongside him – and the three defenders didn’t lose a tackle between them all afternoon.
Plenty of positives with the back 3 of Can, Sakho and Skrtel shining. Henderson also outstanding in the middle. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) January 17, 2015
Under a spell of pressure from the hosts, Liverpool stood up to the challenge, defended well for the most part – bar a few nervy moments – and the team dealt with set-pieces in a more assuring manner with Simon Mignolet providing a more commanding figure too – perhaps the perfect indictment of the Reds new and much welcomed resolute approach at the back.
Mignolet was great apart from one flap at a corner. Can, Skrtel & Sakho defended well. How calm are Emre & Sakho. What you need in a 3.
— MB (@MrBoywunder) January 17, 2015
The Reds now have a two week break before hosting West Ham in their next Premier League fixture but first is the small matter of a Capital One Cup semi-final at Anfield against Chelsea on Tuesday night.