Lambert made only two changes this evening as Villa took to the pitch for their first home game of the 2013-14 campaign, with Okore in for the injured Clark he replaced at Stamford Bridge and Bacuna replacing El Ahmadi to make his full debut.
Tiredness seemed to play its part. The opening fifteen minutes were tetchy and it was the visitors from Merseyside who passed the ball more incisively and who dominated possession.
Coutinho shot high and wide, never troubling Guzan.
In the 21st minute, Sturridge lost Okore and showed great skill as he picked up Enrique’s pass on the edge of the area and beat two defenders and Guzan to give his side the lead. His goal means it’s now been twenty-five games since Villa last kept a clean sheet – another unwanted club record.
Chasing the game, and their tails at times, Villa had few real chances in the next twenty minutes as Bacuna’s shot was well off the mark and Benteke lacked control.
Then, as half time approached, the Lions roared into life and the capacity crowd roared with them, believing an equaliser, à la Chelsea, was on the cards. Benteke forced a great save from Mignolet, who was at full stretch as he tipped his Belgian team-mate’s effort round the post. Lowton then knocked the ball down to Weimann, who was desperately unlucky not to score as the slightest touch from Liverpool keeper enabled him to steer the Austrian’s shot over the bar. Even Vlaar got in on the action, pouncing on Westwood’s free-kick but ultimately driving his header wide.
The Villans moved up another gear as the second half got underway, which was a good job as Vlaar had to be quick to clear Sturridge’s dangerous shot for a corner. Guzan also had to be quick on his feet as he collided with Agger; it was the Danish international who came off worse for wear, receiving treatment to his shoulder.
Keeping the opposition under pressure, Bacuna’s free-kick was blocked before Westwood shot wide from long range not once but twice.
Despite their best efforts, Villa were unable to cause Mignolet any concern for the first twenty-five minutes of the second half. Benteke and Weimann both sent headers wide before Agbonlahor, unmarked and with space, had the best chance of the match. Unfortunately, his volley from ten yards out was not on target and it appeared that Lady Luck had left B6 for the bank holiday weekend.
Mignolet was soon busy and he seemed keen to atone for having conceded six in the hammering his previous team, Sunderland, suffered at Villa Park last season. He handled Lowton’s long range effort with ease before pulling off a world-class save four minutes from the end of the game as he steered the ball round the post to break Benteke’s scoring streak.
Hungry for at least a point, the home side threw everything at Liverpool in the dying minutes but the visitors ultimately held on to their narrow lead and left with all three points.
The fans’ disappointment was palpable but there was time for some comic relief when Bacuna, whose debut was dodgy to say the least, was announced as the match-day sponsor’s ‘man of the match’.