Agbonlahor profits as familiar failing haunts Liverpool

Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 0

Agbonlahor profits as familiar failing haunts Liverpool

When tasked with breaking down stubborn and determined opponents, for once Liverpool drew a blank despite the abundance of creative talent on the pitch.

Of course Liverpool’s attackers can be forgiven the odd off day, but Rodgers knows he must be able to balance that out with trusting his back line.

Against Aston Villa, though, it was a throwback to the mid-1990s and Liverpool under Roy Evans when they were dazzling in the final third but desperate back in defence.

In those days the Kop used to holds its breath whenever opponents won a set-piece in a dangerous area around the home team’s penalty area.

And Anfield’s punters shifted uncomfortably in their seats at Saturday tea time whenever Villa pumped a high ball into the box from corners or free-kicks.

Rodgers said: “We have to defend better, that’s where it starts, just defend, don’t try and be clever.

“Don’t try and play, just defend and don’t let them have the set piece. Then when the ball comes in the box we have to win, not lose, the first duel.

“The worst case scenario should be that on days when we’re not creative with the ball, then we get a point and move on and that’s the disappointing thing about it because we didn’t.”

For long periods of this contest Villa were camped in their own half but, in truth, they had the better of the chances, albeit from set-piece situations, with visiting goalkeeper Brad Guzan rarely troubled.

Villa forward Gabby Agbonlahor bundled the ball to the net in the ninth minute when it dropped to him in the six-yard box after Philippe Senderos had got his head on a corner from the impressive Ashley Westwood.

Philippe Coutinho struck the post late on for Liverpool but apart from a couple of long-range efforts from Adam Lallana and a weak Lazar Markovic header the hosts could not breach a disciplined Villa side marshalled superbly by Senderos.

Liverpool’s back four — Javier Manquillo, Dejan Lovren, Mamadou Sakho and Alberto Moreno — only have 30 Premier League appearances for the Reds between them. Rodgers refused to single out any for individual criticism, but he realises there are going to be more challenges, particularly away from home and in the Champions League, when his defenders must be decisive.

“We need to be on the front foot more,” he added. “We need everyone to defend in the box and that’s something we have to be comfortable with”.

Villa’s victory at Anfield means the claret and blues have taken 10 points from their first four Premier League games.

And goalscorer Agbonlahor admits after three seasons battling against relegation they are focused on making an impact at the other end of the table.

“We’ve had a tough few years as a team,” he said. “We’ve had some real lows, but hopefully now we can keep enjoying our football and get results.”

Agbonlahor also believes the arrival of Roy Keane as assistant manager to Paul Lambert, along with some experienced players, is behind the team’s resurgence.

He added: “I think young players in the side see Roy Keane here and they are going to listen. He’s perfect for the club and I think we needed someone like that.

“It’s about what he has done in the game. And when you have done what he has, and played at the top for so long, you have to agree with what he says. I think it’s paying off.

“We have also brought in players who know the Premier League.”

LIVERPOOL (4-2-3-1): Mignolet 6; Manquillo 5, Lovren 5, Sakho 5, Moreno 6; Henderson 6, Gerrard 6; Lallana 7 (Sterling 61; 7) Coutinho 6 Markovic 6 (Borini 71; 6); Balotelli 5 (Lambert 71; 6).

ASTON VILLA (4-1-2-1-2): Guzan 7; Hutton 5, Baker 6, Senderos 8, Cissokho 7; Westwood 7; Delph 6, Richardson 5; Cleverley 7 (Sanchez 86; 6); Weimann 5 (N’Zogbia 72; 7), Agbonlahor 7 (Bent 91; 6).

Referee: Lee Mason.

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