LFC battle to secure second win and clean sheet
Daniel Sturridge proved the matchwinner for the second successive weekend as Liverpool held on for a hard-earned victory at Aston Villa.
Sturridge, who netted on the opening day against Stoke City, struck the only goal of the match on 21 minutes with a brilliant individual effort.
It meant Liverpool won their first two games of a Premier League campaign for only the third time since 1994.
And it was a real backs-to-the-wall affair during a full-blooded second half in which Villa, so poor in the opening half-hour, fought back and dominated, only to be denied by a brace of excellent saves from Simon Mignolet.
Rodgers kept faith in the team that opened the campaign with a narrow 1-0 home victory against Stoke, although there was room for new signing Aly Cissokho on the bench.
The Anfield outfit edged a hectic first 20 minutes during which the expected pattern of the game was set, the visitors enjoying the greater possession with Villa happy to sit back and look to the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor and power of Christian Benteke on the break.
And they gained their reward on 21 minutes when they opened to scoring in superb fashion.
Jose Enrique, responding to the arrival of Cissokho, played a ball in from the left that was dummied by Coutinho into the path of Sturridge.
There was still plenty for the striker to do, but he demonstrated incredible skill to jink away from Villa left-back Antonio Luna and goalkeeper Brad Guzan before finishing into the roof of the net with his left foot.
It was Sturridge’s 13th goal in 18 appearances for Liverpool since arriving from Chelsea in January, and came despite the player admitting yesterday he was less than 100% fit having only recently returned from a lengthy spell on the sidelines with an ankle problem.
It was also the 100th goal of Rodgers’ tenure.
Matters were all a bit too easy for Liverpool against an extremely compliant Villa outfit. But once the visitors understandably started to sit back, so the hosts gained encouragement.
There were warnings before half-time. In the 41st minute, Kolo Toure blocked a Leandro Acuna shot and when the resultant corner wasn’t properly cleared, Benteke curled in a shot the flying Simon Mignolet did well to turn behind.
Then more indifferent defending presented an opportunity for Andreas Weimann, whose snapshot deflected off Daniel Agger and flew narrowly over the crossbar.
It gave Villa greater belief going into the second half, but Ron Vlaar had to be alert to block Sturridge’s cross as Jordan Henderson waited to put the finishing touch to a lightning Liverpool break.
While Villa enjoyed greater possession, Liverpool kept the Midlanders at arm’s length with Ashley Westwood wayward with a brace of ambitious 30-yard efforts.
With Cissokho having entered the fray for his debut, Liverpool were fortunate on 75 minutes when Toure’s clearing header dropped to the feet of Agbonlahor 15 yards out, but the Villa man dragged his shot wide.
There was mild panic when Mignolet played Agger into trouble and the goalkeeper misjudged the return pass to concede a corner.
But Mignolet atoned with a tremendous save from Benteke after the striker was put clear by a flick-on from substitute Nicklas Helenius.
Sturridge had a shout for a penalty in the closing moments but his earlier goal proved just enough.
ASTON VILLA (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Lowton (El Ahmadi 65), Okore, Vlaar, Luna; Westwood (Helenius 83), Delph; Bacuna, Weimann (Tonev 73), Agbonlahor; Benteke. Subs: Steer, Clark, Herd, Sylla. BOOKINGS: Luna, Delph and Lowton (all fouls).
LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet; Johnson, Toure, Agger, Enrique; Lucas, Gerrard; Henderson, Aspas (Cissokho 69), Coutinho (Allen 83); Sturridge. Subs: Jones, Alberto, Borini, Sterling, Wisdom. BOOKINGS: Aspas, Johnson and Lucas (all fouls).
REFEREE: Mark Clattenburg.