Tactic Talk: Villa made to pay for early lapses

Aston Villa slumped to their third defeat in five Premier League games, going down 2-0 to Liverpool at Villa Park. In a disastrous start for the Villa, Liverpool found themselves two goals in front inside the opening 15 minutes, with early set pieces leading to strikes from Craig Bellamy and Martin Skrtel to effectively seal the points for Liverpool. In the absence of first choice forwards Darren Bent and Gabriel Agbonlahor due to injury and suspension respectively, Villa lacked the attacking potency to overturn their two-goal deficit, despite statistics suggesting the hosts matched Liverpool throughout the match.

The Villa defenders were scrutinised as a result of Liverpool’s early breakthrough, rather than the lack of attacking threats, with Bellamy allowed to pounce on Jonjo Shelvey’s flick to poke home from inside the six-yard box. Four minutes later, Bellamy would turn provider, the Welshman’s corner headed in by Skrtel at the near post. With a tough task ahead, Villa looked to get back into the game, creating just a single shot on goal fewer than the visitors, although crucially, Liverpool would forge more efforts on target.

Behind almost from the outset, Villa remained competitive throughout the remainder of the match. While the visitors slightly shaded possession, the hosts would edge their opponents territorially. Despite the early setbacks, Villa’s defenders would go onto a much-improved display, completing 15 tackles to Liverpool’s 16, as aerial duels would also be almost evenly contested.

In attack also, statistics would suggest that Alex McLeish’s side ensured that the contest was keenly fought, matching Liverpool’s efforts to create from wide areas, with Charles N’Zogbia and Marc Albrighton attempting to offer outlets for Villa. Despite seemingly matching their opponents’ endeavour, Villa were ultimately unable to convert chances into goals without their star attackers.

While Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool side continued their pursuit of the Champions League places, their victory moved them 10 points clear of a Villa side who have themselves targeted European qualification in recent years. However, in this encounter at Villa Park, Liverpool ultimately highlighted the areas in which their opponents were lacking. By opening the lead and doubling their advantage within the early moments of the game, frailty in the Villa defence, notably from set-pieces, was highlighted as Dalglish’s side dominated the opening exchanges. In attack also, the two clinical finishes from inside the six-yard box displayed the kind of finishing Villa were lacking in the absence of Bent.

As Liverpool claimed a credible away win, Villa boss McLeish will be examining his side’s own shortfalls in this encounter. With lapses in defence and a lack of options available in attack clear factors in their defeat, Villa will work to tighten these areas ahead of a busy Christmas schedule, continuing with the visit of Arsenal followed by a trip to Stoke City. However, should such areas be addressed ahead of upcoming fixtures, Villa fans will be hoping their side build on the positives from their previous encounter.

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