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Daniel Sturridge's rich vein of form continued as his first-half strike gave Liverpool a 1-0 Barclays Premier League win against Aston Villa at Villa Park. Sturridge's goal, his eighth in his last seven league matches, was all that separated the two sides as Liverpool made it two wins from as many matches to start the new season.
In a fixture where both sides struggled to assert themselves, Liverpool's win gave them their best start to a Barclays Premier League season since the 2008-09 campaign, in which they finished second. The triumph also extended their superb run at Villa Park, as they notched their 10th win at the venue since 1998. Of the other six clashes, five have ended in draws, with Liverpool's latest triumph their third in succession.
Close-season signings Jores Okore and Leandro Bacuna were drafted into Villa's starting line-up by manager Paul Lambert, in place of Ciaran Clark and Karim El Ahmadi, while Liverpool were unchanged, although new loan signing Aly Cissokho won a place on the bench.
Neither side could find their rhythm in the opening stages, as the contrasting styles made for a cagey beginning, but Liverpool settled first. Villa seemed content to give their opponents time on the ball and attack on the counter, playing into the hands of the visitors, and although they could not create a clear opening, Liverpool controlled the tempo with ease.
It took a piece of individual brilliance for Liverpool to take the lead, as outstanding footwork and a calm, composed finish from Sturridge delighted the travelling fans in the 21st minute. The build-up was relatively innocuous, as a Jose Enrique ball from the left floated into the penalty area, but a smart dummy from Philippe Coutinho allowed Sturridge in. The in-form striker showcased his skill with a series of delicate touches to take the ball around the Villa defender Antonio Luna, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan, before he poked into the top corner with the outside of his left foot from an acute angle.
In a half where chances were few and far between, Villa were continually frustrated by Liverpool's consistent defensive shape, but they did go close in the 41st minute when Christian Benteke's curling effort forced a save from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. Villa finished stronger in the first half, as Andreas Weimann saw his shot deflected over.
The second half started much like the first, with both sides struggling to convert possession into chances, and although Villa had more of the play, all they had to show for it initially were two Ashley Westwood efforts that went over. Villa's attacks slowly became more frequent and Benteke powered a header over from a corner, but Liverpool, who brought on Cissokho for his debut late on, continued to hold firm.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and substitute Aleksandar Tonev went close with left-footed efforts as the hosts continued to press, while Mignolet made an excellent stop to deny Benteke after he broke free in the penalty area. But Liverpool held on for an important three points as their perfect start to the season continued.
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: "I knew we'd have an adverse reaction from [playing on] Saturday [and] Wednesday's game. I knew that it was important that we tried to hang in when Liverpool had the domination for 30 minutes or so. [In] the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, I thought we started to get a second wind.
"In the second half I thought we were excellent. We gave it a go. For us, we have played probably three teams that are expected to be in that top group and we have given everyone a game. We have won one, just got beaten on Wednesday and just got beat [today]."
"The goalkeeper has had two fantastic saves from Christian [Bentele], Gabby [Agbonlahor] might have scored and then Andi's [Weimann] deflected one. He's a top goalkeeper and he's made two world class saves. We kept on going. It wasn't as if we never had chances. Second half I thought we dominated the game."
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers: "It was a terrific win for us. The first half we had good control of the game and scored an excellent goal and in the second half we just needed to defend a bit more deeply today. If we open up too much they can really hurt you. Our aim was to just to keep our lines tight together and deny them many chances. It was a good win for us as this is a difficult team to play against.
"We looked calm on the ball in the first half some of our momentum was very good, our positioning was good, our mentality was good. In the second half you expect more pressure from them but overall Simon [Mignolet] has made a couple of terrific saves and we got three points."
"It's still very early. What was important was to make a good start. We didn't have a good start at all last year. Since the turn of the year we've been getting better and better. What's important now is the mentality of the group is to win and win together. We just have to keep it going."
"He [Kolo Toure] has been brilliant. Obviously you know Jamie Carragher well and it was very important to get someone in of a similar ilk. We need that experience. He's 32, he's fit and he's got that winning mentality and he's been very influential in the changing room."
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