Sunday, 18 January 2015

Borini and Lambert slay Villains

Two strikers scored and Liverpool kept another clean sheet as the Reds earned their fifth away win in a row at Villa Park and put in another performance that proves that they’re finally beginning to click. Fabio Borini turned home Henderson’s cross in the first half and Rickie Lambert rifled into the corner from the edge of the box with ten minutes remaining to secure the Merseysiders’ fifth win in six fixtures and consign their struggling hosts to yet another defeat.

Brendan Rodgers made one change to the team that beat Sunderland at the Stadium of Light last time out, bringing in Raheem Sterling for Steven Gerrard, who was left out of the squad altogether as a sensible precautionary measure ahead of Liverpool’s League Cup semi-final clash with Chelsea in midweek.

The opening fifteen minutes were fairly even and quiet, with Mignolet comfortably saving Benteke’s header from Hutton’s cross the only moment of note. However, Liverpool soon took control and, moments after Moreno’s effort had been chalked off for offside, the Reds gained the lead.

Captain for the day Jordan Henderson, who marshalled the midfield masterfully alongside the increasingly important Lucas, sent a brilliant cross into the danger area, where the unmarked Borini instinctively stuck out his leg to prod home the opener. It was terrible defending from Villa, but a world class assist from Henderson and a confidence-booster for the marginalised Borini.

Borini stuck out a leg to break the deadlock
Liverpool then took a grip on the game and really should have entered the interval with a greater lead. Coutinho’s header from Markovic’s cross was saved by Guzan, while Borini lashed high and wide before Raheem Sterling squandered the best chance to double the away side’s advantage. The young England international raced through on goal but tried to be too clever as he attempted a cute chip over the keeper. Instead, the ball landed straight in Guzan’s relieved hands; Sterling should have just stuck his laces through it.

Villa improved after the break, and they sent a few warning signs during the closing stages of the first period, Mignolet needing two attempts to gather Sanchez’s ambitious low strike and Cleverley poking wide when well placed on the stroke of half time. At the other end, Guzan made a great save from Moreno seven minutes after the restart, but apart from that Liverpool created comparatively little, while the Midlanders enjoyed a sustained spell of pressure.

Villa’s misfiring strike force was the main barrier preventing them scoring the equaliser their performance arguably warranted. Although Mignolet performed slightly better, making a world class save to deny Benteke on the hour mark, Liverpool’s defence still looked shaky and probably would have folded in the face of superior opponents.

Thankfully, though, Paul Lambert’s men lacked the striking capacity to end their goal drought, which has now stretched to over eight hours of football. Delph, Gill, Baker and Benteke all went close for Aston Villa, but the Villains just couldn’t find the back of the net for love nor money and, after weathering the storm, Liverpool went in for the kill.

Lucas Leiva, of all people, went very close to scoring the decisive second, seeing Guzan palm his 25-yard shot, which was destined for the bottom right corner, behind the goal. The resulting corner kick was eventually worked to substitute Rickie Lambert, who picked his spot and finished with aplomb, striking powerfully into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box.

Lambert celebrates scoring the all important second goal
It was encouraging to see Lambert do what he was signed for. The 32-year old has struggled so far throughout his Anfield career, perhaps primarily because too much responsibility has been thrust upon him. He has had to start games that he shouldn’t have as a result of a scarcity of other options available to Rodgers, and that has put him under unhelpful pressure.

He was signed to be an impact sub, coming off the bench and providing an alternative approach in the closing stages, and that’s exactly what he did yesterday at Villa Park. If he can continue in that mould, Liverpool will see a return on their £4 million investment in the former Southampton striker.

It was also great to watch the way in which the players celebrated with the travelling supporters after scoring the second. That showed just how much it meant to them and points to a unity and solidarity between the players and the fans that will continue to serve Liverpool well during the second half of the season, which promises to be much better than what many fans feared during the first half of the campaign.

This is a great photo
With the defence improving, a formation that seems to work and Sturridge soon to return, things are looking much rosier for the Reds. They remain five points off fourth and face a tough task trying to achieve Champions League qualification, particularly when their fixture schedule becomes messed up by Europa League commitments, but a series of good results has fostered a refreshing sense of optimism around the club currently.

There does seem to be a golden sky at the end of the storm after all.


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