Aston Villa pounced on poorly defended corner, scoring an early goal, and made it count for the result, winning 1-0 at Anfield.
Liverpool, returning after an international break that could not have come at a worse time for a side that looked like they had started to found their form, struggled from the start with seven new faces in the starting eleven. Despite a handful of Anfield debuts for the Reds, this match was no coming out party for any of them.
New signings Adam Lallana and Javier Manquillo looked like a possible threat on the left in the first few minutes, but the promise never completely materialized. Lallana would ultimately look like the player who had not played competitively in some time that he is. Manquillo, for his part, would send a number of crosses into the box during the match with little or no effect.
Apart from a bright sequence of play in the 6th minute, Liverpool were a side out of sorts. Beginning with a long diagonal pass played by Jordan Henderson from a deep position, Markovic flicked the ball too Manquillo in the corner who crossed it back to Markovic for a snap header that fell way wide of the far post.
Liverpool began again with the defensive four from the White Hart Lane clean sheet: Alberto Moreno, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho, and Javier Manquillo. However, the back four looked even less familiar with one another at home in the early going, frantic to cover and find their steel. In the 9th minute, Villa outmuscled Liverpool’s defense on every front in the goalmouth, jumping on a loose ball in the area and slipping it past Simon Mignolet for the only goal needed.
Conceding an early goal only seemed to increase Liverpool’s troubled defensive vulnerabilities. It wasn’t until the 20th minute that the Reds began to find possession and string a series of passes together, trying to gain a foothold in the game.
It was at that point, referee Lee Mason’s crew completely failed to spy Aston Villa’s Philippe Senderos kick Mario Balotelli’s leg out from under him off the ball, in what became a clear targeting of the Reds new striker. Senderos might have been the most guilty , but the Villains rotated defenders in the Balotelli bashing very deliberately with no consequences.
Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho dropped deeper and deeper into the midfield looking to get on the ball and dictate play, desperately trying to regain the scintillating form he displayed in the pre-season. Unfortunately, he and his teammates were left searching for the creativity and precision of a final touch to create any real chances.
Lazar Markovic, in his first start, had trouble finding a way into the match to deliver any impact. Plus, the double pivot of two deep midfielders has yet work successfully, regardless of personnel.
At the half, the match cried out for a second striker and Raheem Sterling, resting from his England performance. Yet, terse were no changes at the half.
After the break, the Reds tried to impose themselves, controlling the ball for long stretches. Still, their possession lacked urgency and they continued to struggle creating space behind a well organized and physically rugged Villa defense bunkered in their own end.
In the 65th minute Sterling came on for Lallana. Within five minutes, both Ricky Lambert and Fabio Borini entered the match for Balotelli and Markovic, changing the shape of Liverpool’s side. Unfortunately, little real threat materialized. Sterling was bright and linked with Coutinho, but the home side could not find the finish. Lambert still has to find his form and Borini was all but invisible in this cameo.
This looked much more like the Reds from the first two fixtures than it did the one that thrashed Spurs. The Reds still lack answers to a tough, rugged defense content to pack it in at the back and are only likely to see more of that from opposing teams. It was clearly not the Red’s day.