Mignolet the hero again as Liverpool edge Aston Villa at Villa Park
By Oliver Wilson
Liverpool were able to hold on to a slender 1-0 win at Villa Park on Saturday as Daniel Sturridge bagged his second goal in two games to give Liverpool a perfect start to their season.
The Englishman struck on 21 minutes but it was his keeper Simon Mignolet who earned the Reds their three points, producing a number of good saves to stop Villa answering back on a thrilling afternoon of football in the Midlands.
Both goalkeepers were given early touches to settle into the game, with Brad Guzan neatly catching Iago Aspas’ deflected strike in the opening two minutes while last week’s hero Simon Mingolet was able to puck a deflected Gabriel Agbonlahor shot out of the sky moments later.
The game’s early pace faded after the first ten minutes and Villa fans will have been pleased to see their side keep the ball out of the net after conceding early in their opening two fixtures of the season.
The Holte End faithful, however, were not too happy to see Liverpool begin to grow into the game, holding the ball well, while the homeside looked to hit on the break.
While Christian Benteke, Andreas Weimann and Agbonlahor searched for the right moments to unleash bursts of offence on their guests, Liverpool bided their time, waiting to strike.
There had been a few questions pre-match regarding Paul Lambert’s choice to give Jores Okore a start ahead of Ciaran Clark. The Irish international took a nasty bump on the head Wednesday night and was sat bandaged on the Villa bench while the new summer signing too to the field. The lack of chemistry between the defensive pairing seemed to be a problem and when Jose Enrique flashed a ball across the face of the Villa area, the untracked Sturridge was able to skip between the two defenders, who were left flat footed by a Philippe Coutinho dummy, before rounding Brad Guzan and grabbing the opener on 22 minutes.
Liverpool, composed and cool in possession rarely struggled against a skittish and tired looking Villa, with Lambert’s men unable to really press for an equaliser until just before the half time break.
Benteke forced a cracking two-handed diving save from Liverpool’s keeper just before the break, turning Kolo Toure on the edge of the Liverpool box and firing a curling effort towards the far corner but aside from that, both keepers remained unworked for much of the first 45 minutes.
This trend continued as the second half developed. Villa pushed, driven on by a roaring crowd for the first 15 minutes of the half, but no equaliser came as the local boys were forced to make do with efforts from range, young Ashley Westwood ending two notable attempts high into the Holte End.
Liverpool rarely ventured forward, allowing their hosts to retain the ball for long periods. Villa though, squandered their possession with Premier League debutant Leandro Bacuna being the main culprit.
Introductions of Aly Cissokho for Liverpool and Aleksandar Tonev and Karim El Ahmadi did little to change the play as Liverpool soaked up Villa’s pressure competently as the stadium clocks at Villa Park rolled past the 75th minute. Steven Gerrard and Lucas Levia helped hurry and hassle the Villa midfield while Fabian Delph did his best to work some magic as he continued his positive start to the season.
Tonev struck an effort from distance that Mignolet got down well to while Villa, for the second game running, failed to find the referees favour with a penalty claim, Toure’s barge into the back of Benteke as the Belgian rose for a header deemed fair by Mark Clattenburg. The incident made even all the more unfair when a minute later Benteke was whistled for the slightest lean on his marker at a throw-in.
Despite not getting the rub of the green on occasion, Villa wouldn’t be deterred in their advances forward and Mignolet was once again called on for some late heroics. Villa’s final third substitute Nicklas Helenius managed to nod the ball into the path of Benteke. With the ball bouncing in front of him the striker lashed a swerving effort towards the near post only to see his fellow countryman deny him with a brilliant one handed stop.
A final Tonev lash from long range was all Villa cold manage after that as You’ll Never Walk Alone rang out from the visiting fans. Brendan Rodgers’ side didn’t impress but they got the job done, while Villa will have to hope they can start turning pressure into goals soon.