Read a full match report of the Premier League game between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on Saturday Jan 18, 2014.
Luis Suárez’s cunning in the penalty area rescued a point to keep Liverpool in the top four of the Premier League. With his side trailing to a game Aston Villa, in the 52nd minute Suárez galloped into the box in pursuit of an over hit forward pass from Steven Gerrard. As Villa’s keeper Brad Guzan advanced, Suárez flicked the ball beyond his dive and everyone in the stadium knew what was coming next. There was the slightest of contact and the Uruguayan ensured a positive outcome with the kind of exaggerated tumble that would earn him maximum points on Tom Daley’s Splash.
“Brad used his experience to pull his arm away,” said Villa’s manager Paul Lambert of the collision. “But the referee’s got a split-second decision to make.”
“It was,” said his opposite number Brendan Rodgers, “a Uruguayan penalty.”
Lambert may have been philosophical, but how the Liverpool owner John Henry, at Anfield for the first time this season, must have been relieved by his best player’s initiative. Sitting in the front row of the directors’ box, for 45 minutes Henry must have wondered about the accuracy of the reports he was getting across the Atlantic of Liverpool’s coruscating first half of the season. This was not the performance of a side apparently in contention for the title.
“I didn’t think we were anywhere near our level in the first half,” was Rodgers’s assessment. “But you have to give credit to Aston Villa. I thought their front two were excellent.”
From the off Aston Villa appeared determined to spoil Henry’s visit. In the first minute, Gabriel Agbonlahor hinted at what was to come when he burst on to Christian Benteke’s shrewd flick, and drove at Simon Mignolet. His shot, however, slipped past the post. Villa continued as if determined to follow up their victory here last season. With the debutant Ryan Bertrand marauding down Liverpool’s right, and with Agbonlahor’s pace constantly alarming Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel, the visitors were in control.
Then, in the 27th minute, a clearance from defence found its way to Benteke, who held the ball for a moment before sending Agbonlahor in behind Toure with a deliciously inviting pass. The erstwhile England forward stretched away from the Ivorian, crossed and there was Andreas Weimann, to slide in the goal. He looked a stride offside, but it was a neat finish.
For the watching Henry, worse was soon to follow. Just eight minutes later, Agbonlahor managed to be first to Karim El Ahmadi’s pass down the line and swung in a cross which Mignolet, confused by Skrtel’s presence, merely slapped on to a surprised Benteke. The Villa man – recently bereft in front of goal – stilled his astonishment at such a gift to stoop and head in the second.
“I thought in the first half we should have been out of sight,” said Lambert. “I thought we played better this year than we did last year, when we won 2-1.”
Perhaps inspired by the owner’s presence, it was then that Liverpool’s man of the season decided action was required. It had been a frustrating half for Suárez. His flicks and feints weren’t being read by colleagues, passes to him were too long, he suffered the indignity of being elbowed in the side of the head by Villa’s full back Leandro Bacuna. But even when stewing in fury, Suárez is capable of changing things. In first-half stoppage time, with Villa supporters giving a cheery olé! to a sequence of passes by their side, he suddenly emerged from his side’s trough. Galloping at the Villa defence he speared a pass at Henderson, whose beautifully timed back heel sent in Daniel Sturridge to flick the ball over Brad Guzan.
Suárez set about Villa in the second half with his customary dash. In the 52nd minute he charged into the area, Guzan approached him and the inevitable ensued: Steven Gerrard dispatching the penalty. “I thought it was a penalty, once he’s touched it round him, his body’s made contact,” reckoned Rodgers.
By now, the view from the directors’ box was growing more comfortable. Without ever dominating, Liverpool appeared to be finding their rhythm. Sterling began to gallop, Sturridge was full of tricks, Henderson took control of the midfield. Liverpool’s sense of renewal would have been encouraged by the sight of Agbonlahor limping off to be replaced by Grant Holt to make his Villa debut. The former Norwich man, on loan from Wigan, has his qualities. But winning a sprint against Toure isn’t one of them.
It seemed from there Liverpool must win to send the boss home to Boston happy. Yet, somehow the final onslaught never came. Villa began to seize more of the possession, getting the ball more frequently into Holt and Benteke, killing off the game as Liverpool simply could not make their resurgence pay. The closest they came was in the 75th minute, when Suárez fizzed a free kick from forty yards just past Guzan’s post. When Sturridge in a position to win it, he shot tamely at the Villa keeper, the home fans began to pour for the exits, their team’s title credentials undermined by Villa’s insistence. As they left, the visiting fans were chanting long and loud at the delicious arrival at a point few can have anticipated.
Liverpool 4-2-3-1 Mignolet; Johnson, Toure, Skrtel, Cissokho; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Coutinho (Lucas 45, Allen 66), Suárez; Sturridge. Subs Jones, Alberto, Aspas, Moses, Kelly.
Aston Villa 4-3-1-2 Guzan; Bacuna (Sylla 61), Clark, Vlaar, Bertrand (Luna 81); Westwood, Delph, El Ahmadi; Weimann; Agbonlahor (Holt 49), Benteke. Subs Steer, Helenius, Albrighton, Gardner. Booked Bertrand, Bacuna, Clark, El Ahmadi.
Referee J Moss (West Yorkshire)