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EPL match review: Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 31: Steven Gerrard of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – MARCH 31: Steven Gerrard of Liverpool in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park

Aston Villa’s push for safety had come alive as they had won their last two games and were looking for a third consecutive win against Liverpool, whom they had beaten 3-1 at Anfield earlier this season. Villa were looking to gain some valuable points against a Liverpool team which had not beaten a club from the Midlands this season, with a record of 1 draw and 4 losses against clubs from the region.

In the end, it was a win for Liverpool courtesy of two goals in 13 minutes via Henderson and a Steven Gerrard penalty. The loss kept Aston Villa in the bottom 3 as Wigan had moved above Villa thanks to their win on Saturday.

The game started well for Villa and the impressive Christian Benteke was a constant thorn in Liverpool’s defence, causing all sorts of problems for Daniel Agger and his partner Jamie Carragher – who was playing in place of Martin Skrtel. Liverpool had made 4 changes to the squad that had lost meekly to Southampton with Reina and Henderson returning to the line-up. The changes did not help Liverpool as Villa started brightly and should have led after 16 minutes when a lovely ball was played along the ground setting up Gabriel Agbonlahor with an easy chance. However, with just Reina to beat, Agbonlahor shot straight at the Liverpool keeper from 6 yards out.

That was a warning to the Liverpool defence and they were breached at the hal-hour mark. A long ball was played in the middle of the defence  Agbonlahor passed the ball towards Benteke who volleyed home a first-time effort past Reina for his 18th goal of the season. Villa were deservedly leading 1-0.

This was the catalyst for Liverpool to wake up and they almost scored instantly after the restart. Gerrard and Suarez linked up brilliantly to put the Liverpool captain in a great position to score, but the Villa defence was able to scramble the ball out for a corner. Suarez should have scored for Liverpool in the 40th minute when Bannan, who was under no pressure, carelessly played the ball from midfield back to his own defence. Suarez was presented with a one-on-one chance versus Guzan, but the American smartly saved the Uruguayan’s shot to keep Villa in the lead.

Gerrard then tested the Villa keeper with a shot from outside the box. But Guzan did well to keep a swerving shot from going in. The scoreline read 1-0 at the half-time whistle.

The second half started with a bang, and a brilliant counter attack from Liverpool saw them level the game. Gerrard played a lofted pass to Coutinho, who played a beautiful through ball from the halfway line to a rampaging Henderson. Henderson then calmly chipped the ball over the rushing Guzan to make it 1-1.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - MARCH 31:  Liverpool Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring the first Liverpool goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – MARCH 31: Liverpool Jordan Henderson celebrates after scoring the first Liverpool goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Liverpool at Villa Park

Liverpool were in the ascendency after the goal as Villa went into a shell. Suarez played Coutinho through, but the Brazilian just shot wide off the mark. Glen Johnson then had a shot deflected from outside the Villa box and Guzan was helpless as the ball came off the post and kept Villa in the reckoning. It was not long before Liverpool did score the second goal. Suarez was played into the box by Gerrard. He was needlessly tackled by Baker and a penalty was awarded by referee Lee Mason – a correct call. Gerrard calmly slotted past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1 to Liverpool, a lead they fully deserved.

Villa were not going to submit so easily; they brought on Fabian Delph and N’Zgobia in the 62nd minute. Benteke then had a brilliant header cleared off the line by the Liverpool captain. As the game entered its final quarter, Liverpool were happy to just sit back and close Villa down. Chances were few and far between with Luis Suarez having the best chance as he time and again danced past the Villa defence and should have scored, but could only chip the ball into Guzan’s hands. The final substitution for Villa had El Ahmadi coming on, while the only substitute Liverpool brought on was the winger Raheem Sterling coming on in place of the impressive Coutinho.

There was still time for some last-minute drama. With the clock running down, the ball was hoofed deep into Liverpool’s penalty box and the ball was headed into Benteke’s path who shot it past Reina into the goal. The big Belgian’s celebrations were cut short as the assistant referee raised his flag for a correct offside decision.

Villa fans will be chewing on their nails for the last 7 games of the season as they try to hold on to another season of top-flight football. They say no club is too big for relegation and it looks like Villa are headed down the same path as another former giant of English football, Leeds United.

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