Luis who? After a summer of endless speculation about the future of Luis Suarez, Liverpool are showing the world there is more to them than their suspended, unsettled Uruguayan striker. For the first time in five years they have started a Premier League campaign with back-to-back wins and for that they owe particular thanks to Daniel Sturridge who for the second week running earned the Merseysiders a 1-0 victory.
The forward's excellent first-half strike was his eighth in his last seven League outings and if he carries on this way he could play his way into contention for a place in the England squad. Sturridge admitted to Sky Sports afterwards that the World Cup was his aim, and if he carries on in this vein his manager, Brendan Rodgers, has no doubt he can establish himself as one of the Premier League's leading forwards.
"Daniel is a player I believe will prove one of the top strikers in this division," he said. "He has all the attributes – he is super quick, with a wonderful touch and great movement. He just needed an opportunity. He had a couple of difficult moves and it is just about providing him with an opportunity."
It was a very good goal he scored after 21 minutes to cap Liverpool's first-half dominance. This team can be profligate at times but not here, as they struck from their first clear opening. Jose Enrique played the ball in from the left, Philippe Coutinho stepped over it and on it ran to Sturridge as he entered the penalty box. He still had work to do but jinked past Antonio Luna and then rounded Brad Guzan before, with a change of feet, finishing high into the net with a prod from his left.
There were other notable positives for Rodgers as Liverpool extended their unbeaten run in the Premier League to 10 matches. Kolo Touré's display in handling Christian Benteke underlined Rodgers' wisdom in bringing him in on a free transfer. "Kolo's a really experienced defender," said Rodgers. "I needed to replace Jamie Carragher with someone with experience and Kolo gives you that – a real winning mentality. He is really clever in his marking."
It was a solid, if not spectacular, victory from Liverpool who benefitted from a slow start by a Villa side who, according to manager Paul Lambert, felt the effects in their legs of an extra fixture in midweek at Chelsea. Lambert had given home debuts to three of his summer signings – the Danish international centre-back Jores Okore, Dutch midfielder Leandro Bacuna, and Luna, a Spanish full-back – yet they spent the first half on the back foot.
"I knew we'd have an adverse reaction from Saturday and Wednesday's game," said Lambert. "It wasn't until the last 15 minutes of the first half that we started to get a second wind. In the second half I thought we were excellent and gave it a go."
Although Benteke had hinted at his threat by shrugging aside Touré in the early moments, Villa showed little of the attacking menace displayed in their opening victory at Arsenal and unlucky loss at Chelsea. Finally, five minutes before the break, Benteke brought the home crowd to their feet. Collecting a bouncing ball from a corner with his back to goal, he held off Touré and came back inside before curling in a shot that his compatriot Simon Mignolet got down to touch behind for another corner.
Liverpool's failure to clear their lines then let in Andreas Weimann for another opportunity but his shot deflected off the back of Daniel Agger and flew just over.
As the second half went on, Liverpool sat back, even if Sturridge was always a threat on the break. From one run he would have teed up Jordan Henderson but for a fine block by Ron Vlaar; later on he had a shout for a penalty turned down after going down under a Guzan challenge.
It was at the other end that the late action occurred as Villa's rally almost brought a late reward, Gabriel Agbonlahor slicing a volley the wrong side of the post. With five minutes remaining, Benteke latched on to the ball just inside the Liverpool box. Touré came across swiftly to distract him but he still got in a shot, yet Mignolet flung himself to his left to palm it away.
There was also a Benteke penalty shout that fell on deaf ears, but for Villa it was a familiar story. They have beaten Liverpool at home just once this century and, moreover, took just one point at home against the top seven sides last season. Yet Lambert remained upbeat, saying: "Their goalkeeper has had two fantastic saves from Christian."
Mignolet also saved a penalty against Stoke last week so Sturridge is not the only one to have made an impressive start. Last season Liverpool did not win until 29 September; this season has begun rather more brightly.
"Since January we've been getting better and improving," added Rodgers, who was able to give a debut, off the bench, to Aly Cissokho. Nobody can say his Liverpool are a one-man team any longer.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Guzan: Lowton (El Ahmadi, 65), Okore, Vlaar, Luna; Bacuna, Westwood (Helenius, 83), Delph, Agbonlahor; Weimann (Toney, 73), Benteke.
Liverpool (4-3-3): Mignolet; Johnson, Touré, Agger, Enrique; Henderson, Gerrard, Lucas; Iago Aspas (Cissohko, 69), Sturridge, Coutinho (Allen, 84).
Referee: Mark Clatenburg
Man of the match: Sturridge (Liverpool)
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content