Jan 18, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Aston Villa grabbed two goals before 40 minutes had passed, but Liverpool came back to score on either side of the break. Paul Lambert has plenty to be pleased about regarding his side’s performance, while Brendan Rodgers will likely spend a few days pondering how best to keep his side in the race for the Champions League positions.
The first half was full of surprises, with Villa threatening a repeat of last season’s 3-1 victory at Anfield. It may have been because Liverpool were overconfident, perhaps it was due to a change in tactics, but Liverpool looked rather lackluster for the first thirty minutes. The Villa took advantage, first with Ashley Westwood placing his shot straight at Simon Mignolet after a fine counterattack, then with Ciaran Clark hitting the post.
Just a minute after the post denied the visitors, another great counter allowed Villa to take the lead. Gabby Agbonlahor shot up the left flank, easily outstripping the Reds with his pace. A little bit of fancy footwork got him past Kolo Toure, giving Agbonlahor the chance to slide the ball across the face of goal. Andi Weimann was waiting in the middle, and needed just a touch to put his side ahead.
Liverpool failed to learn from their mistakes, and ten minutes later, there was Agbonlahor again, this time tearing down the right. Both Mignolet and Glen Johnson did their best to stop the resulting cross, but wound up catching only air. Christian Benteke came flying in behind Johnson, sending his diving header into the back of the net.
The hosts did manage to cut the Villa lead in half before the whistle blew for halftime. This time it was the claret and blue defense that were caught napping, foolishly giving Luis Suárez way too much space. The Uruguayan passed off to Jordan Henderson, who impressed with a nifty little backheel into the run of Daniel Sturridge. The resulting shot hit the roof of the net before falling behind Brad Guzan.
Both managers made changes early in the second half. Brendan Rodgers brought on Lucas to replace Coutinho, adding some steel in the Liverpool midfield. Five minutes into the second half, Villa were forced into a change, with Agbonlahor coming off injured, replaced by new loan signing Grant Holt.
But it was Suárez, of course, that brought Liverpool up to level terms. He got on the end of a ball from Steven Gerrard, going one on one with Guzan. The Villa keeper came out to stop him, got a touch on his leg and Suárez went down. The referee barely hesitated before pointing to the spot. It was Gerrard who took it, but it was the intelligent play of Suárez that created the goal.
With fifteen minutes left to play, Suárez very nearly scored one of his own. Yacuba Sylla, on for Karim El Ahmadi, fouled the Uruguayan, giving Liverpool a free kick from about 25 yards out. He took it himself, sending the ball flying over the wall, but could only hit the side netting. Suárez tried again in injury time, but Guzan pushed away to ensure Villa stayed level.
Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Cissokho, Skrtel, Toure, Gerrard, Henderson, Sterling, Coutinho (Lucas 45, Allen 66), Sturridge, Suárez
Goals: Sturridge (45+2); Gerrard (53)
Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Bertrand (Luna 81), El Ahmadi (Sylla 62), Westwood, Delph, Agbonlahor (Holt 49), Weimann, Benteke
Goals: Weimann (25); Benteke (36)
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“He scores when he wants. He scores when he wants. Danny Welbeck, he scores when he wants.”
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