Liverpool legend Bill Shankly famously once said: “Football is a simple game based on the giving and taking of passes, of controlling the ball and of making yourself available to receive a pass. It is terribly simple."
Should the former Anfield boss have been looking down from the Shankly Gates in heaven tonight he will surely have been appalled by his beloved Liverpool’s failure to utilise possession, carelessly losing the ball on countless occasions, and with Villa duly punishing the reds for a sloppy display.
The signs looked ominous from the very start.
Yossi Benayoun failed to convert from an enterprising pass by Fernando Torres, with the Israeli managing only to find the side netting. Minutes later the home side was on the attack again.
A scramble in the Villa box presented Torres, Gerrard, and Benayoun all with chances to open the scoring for the home side, but the threesome failed to capitalise with Rafa Benitez left to ponder how the game remained level.
It was a prolonged period of domination for Liverpool which saw Martin O’Neill’s men camped in their own half, happy to soak up the pressure with Gerrard and Lucas Leiva guilty of losing the ball in the final third several times.
Liverpool looked tame. There was no bite to their attacks, and they seemed to lack invention when it came to playing that final killer pass. Not to mention the absence of any width.
Rafa seems content to persevere with Lucas in midfield but the 22-year-old is no replacement for Xabi Alonso. The Brazilian lacks composure, invention, and talent.
Javier Mascherano thrives in the defensive midfield role, hustling and bustling in midfield, sweeping up in front of the back four. But he dearly misses a midfield partner to whom he can offload the ball and spot the industrious runs of Torres and Gerrard further up the park.
Jay Spearing surely deserves a chance to shine now and replace the hapless Lucas if the club’s owners are unwilling to dig into their own coffers.
Thirty minutes into the game the deadlock was broken and much to the anguish of the Kop it was the away side who took the lead, after Lucas unfortunately headed past his own keeper. It sparked a simmering Liverpool side to boil over as frustrations started to get the better of both the players and the staff.
Torres was harried wherever he ventured, deprived of any time or space. The Spaniard man-marked referee Martin Atkinson all night, with the official refusing to be bullied by the Liverpool number 9’s constant complaints, which earned him a booking before the end of the night.
A contentious corner was awarded deep into injury time in the first half. Pepe Reina was guilty of abusing the officials instead of organising his defence. This momentary lapse in concentration led to Villa’s second as Curtis Davies strayed from his marker and slipped under the radar of the home side’s zonal marking, the defender heading past a despairing Reina.
Liverpool was impoverished of any width. Yossi Benayoun and Dirk Kuyt aren’t natural wingers and both endured torrid nights, failing to impose themselves on the game.
It left Liverpool looking narrow and leading to a congested midfield overloaded with bodies.
The home side did manage to summon a comeback of sorts at the start of the second half. Roared on by a passionate Anfield crowd, Liverpool enjoyed a lengthy spell of dominance, attempting to grind the opposition into submission.
However Brad Friedel rose to the challenge as he has done so often in the past. The American proved difficult to beat, making himself a large, imposing figure in goal, frustrating Kuyt on several occasions.
Torres did raise hopes briefly when he fired past Friedel into the roof of the net with the spell of Liverpool pressure finally paying dividends.
But it was short lived as Villa reinforced their lead taking back a two-goal cushion, seizing a 3-1 lead.
A reckless Gerrard challenge on Reo Coker allowed Ashley Young to score from the spot under the watchful eye of Fabio Capello.
Three avoidable mistakes condemned Liverpool to a first home loss in two years as it proved the final straw, with last year’s runners-up failing to muster up a comeback.
The Liverpool engine room, already a cylinder short, ran out of gas and slumped to a second loss of the season as a cloud of depression soon overshadowed the stadium.
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death.” The red half of Liverpool can assure you that it’s much more serious than that.