Liverpool deserved its much-needed win over Aston Villa on Saturday at Anfield, but we caution against reading too much into the victory.
The Reds’ backs were against the wall when the Villans arrived for the Premier League game, and the hosts delivered a goal-filled, relief-inducing performance.
That’s the good news.
The bad news is Liverpool played a hapless Aston Villa side which, in its current form, represents the lowest standard of opposition it will face for the foreseeable future.
Liverpool’s win over Aston Villa offered both reasons for encouragement and cause for further concern. Liverpool is back to creating and finishing scoring chances — something that was curiously absent since the season started in early August. But Liverpool’s annoying habit of conceding cheap goals and inviting necessary pressure and potential destruction remained on clear display.
The verve, intent and tempo with which Liverpool attacked hearkened back to its first-half display against Arsenal on Aug. 24. That game ended in a goal-less draw thanks to the brilliance of both goalkeepers, but the Reds demonstrated enough power and pace to trouble one of the Premier League’s leading teams for much of the first 45 minutes.
The poise Liverpool lacked in front of goal that day (and in the ensuing five games) emphatically returned against Aston Villa. Liverpool scored a trio of high-quality goals — James Milner netted one within 66 seconds of kickoff, and Daniel Sturridge notched two in the second half — much to the delight of its goal-celebration-starved fans.
It’s no coincidence Liverpool’s attacking improvement coincides with Sturridge’s return — this was game two — from long-term injury. Sturridge appears set on reclaiming his status as Liverpool’s main striker. If he remains healthy — and his partnership with Christian Benteke doubles as an internal rivalry, as it did with Luis Suarez — Liverpool will transform into a far more potent unit than it has been so far this season.
Liverpool built its early success on a tight defense, but confidence among the corps at the back has been low ever since successive losses to West Ham on Aug. 29 and Manchester United on Sept. 12 burst the bubble of impenetrability. Liverpool now has conceded goals from winning positions in its last four games. Upcoming foes Everton, Tottenham, Southampton and Chelsea will pose tougher challenges to Liverpool’s defense than Bordeaux, Norwich City, Carlisle United and Aston Villa could mount. Ditto for the Reds’ attack.
The Reds stopped the bleeding against Aston Villa, and manager Brendan Rodgers launched a barb at his team’s critics in his postgame interviews. Rodgers should be careful.
Liverpool already is suffering without injured captain Jordan Henderson. Benteke’s hamstring injury prevented him from facing his former club Aston Villa. Liverpool made do without the Belgian initially but can’t afford to lose him for an extended period, nor can it cope well if his injury become a recurring one. Roberto Firmino and Dejan Lovren also face spells on the sidelines.
Liverpool plays two more games before the next international break. Rodgers can’t afford to lose any more players at this pivotal moment, as further injuries or bans could undo the progress the Reds have made in attack and disrupt the continuity required to erase the mistakes at the back.
Aston Villa made it easy for Liverpool to play to its strengths. Other teams won’t be so accommodating.
Thumbnail photo via LiverpoolFC.com
Thumbnail photo via Nathaniel Clyne and Danny Ings celebrate Liverpool's win over Aston Villa.