Match Report: Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool
Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool was arguably the most predictable scoreline of the day on Saturday, though the result was perhaps not as straightforward as it seemed on paper. The fact that Paul Lambert's men failed to find the target for the 10th time in the league this season was no shock, but the way, in which Liverpool defended, came as more of a surprise as the Reds continue to progress at an impressive rate after a slow start to the season.
A change of formation seems to have paid dividends, with Brendan Rodgers claiming after the game that his side had "regained its identity" after a shift to three at the back. The Liverpool boss adopted the new system first out against United this season and despite losing 3-0 Rodgers stated that he "saw enough on that day" to suggest it would work.
Liverpool’s unbeaten run
Now the Merseysiders are undefeated in 8 games since that Old Trafford outing, with Saturday's match at Villa Park perhaps representing their strongest defensive performance yet. Rodgers was keen to highlight Emre Can's impressive performance, speaking of his strength and composure up against the threat of Christian Benteke while Mamadou Sakho was equally imposing on the opposite side of the three.
It was, however, Martin Skrtel who was awarded with WhoScored.com's man of the match award courtesy of a rating of 8.28, winning 8 aerial duels in the encounter, while his closest challenger to the top rating was the much-maligned Simon Mignolet (8.01), who made an impressive second half stop to deny compatriot Benteke, with Rodgers also stating that he was "really pleased with how dominant he (Mignolet) was."
The introduction of new signing Carles Gil was perhaps the major positive for the home side, with the Villa boss claiming post-match, it was "as good a debut as I've seen in a long time". While it would be easy to suggest that his own questionable signings would have had played a role in that assertion the Spaniard looked bright when he came on, producing 2 eye-catching dribbles and totalling 32 touches in a busy cameo that threatened, as far as the eventual victors were concerned, to sway the game in Villa's favour.
As it was, with Villa pressing and enjoying a good spell in the second period, Liverpool secured the sucker punch after an error from an otherwise impressive Fabian Delph. Rickie Lambert's pinpoint finish owed much to an excellent touch to take him away from former Red Cissokho, and while Henderson's delivery for Borini's opener deserves a great deal of credit, Villa were guilty of switching off to allow both the cross and shot to come in.
Liverpool may secure Champions League spot
In that sense, this game was a strange encounter, bucking some seasonal trends to see Rodgers' men defend admirably and Lambert's making costly errors at the back. Neither has happened often this season. That Borini and Rickie Lambert were the scorers is perhaps the biggest indicator that while the result was predictable, the match itself was far less so.
Liverpool, on current form, look well placed to secure a Champions League finish that seemed so unlikely only a matter of weeks ago, particularly given that Sturridge is set to return. For Villa, despite drawing another blank in front of goal, there were signs of progress from an attacking sense. It's baby steps as far as Paul Lambert's side are concerned though, and, with an unenviable run of fixtures to come, it's strides they need to be making if they are to avoid the drop.