Aston Villa's dream start to the season continued with a 1-0 victory over Liverpool at Anfield. Gabby Agbonlahor celebrated his new contract by cleaning up a scrappy chance from a corner in the 9th minute, and Villa nearly doubled their lead just three minutes later when Philippe Senderos' free header from a set-piece went just wide. Following a relatively even opening half-hour, Liverpool took the reins and dominated possession the rest of the way. But thanks to an absolute masterclass in organization and team defending, their quality chances would prove to be few and far between in what was doubtlessly a frustrating day for Brendan Rodgers' side.
The final statistics weren't especially impressive; Liverpool held 75% of the possession, out shot Villa 18-5, and the visitors completed just 63% of the 233 - 233! - passes they attempted. But the context is important; once Liverpool made the adjustments needed to control the possession, Villa's original approach wasn't going to work anymore. Had this game been 0-0, Villa aren't likely to take such a defensive posture. But thanks to the lead, sitting back, defending, and seeing how things played out made sense.
And oh, did Aston Villa defend. It was a full team effort, and it was a clinic. Liverpool were given free run on the flanks, Villa inviting them to try to beat Nathan Baker and Philippe Senderos in the air. They did not. The Reds all but abandoned this approach in the hope that they would be able to find a way to break through a compact and masterfully organized Villa midfield. They didn't do that, either. For all of their possession, Liverpool only had one good chance, a thunderbolt from Philippe Coutinho that mercifully clanged off of the post following a tremendous individual effort. Aside from that, it was a lot of "hit-and-hope stuff from the home side, and their final shots tally doesn't really tell the whole story.
Were Villa a bit lucky to escape with all three points? Of course. Any time you're outpossessed 75-25, there's an element of luck involved in turning that into a win. Coutinho's strike that hit the woodwork very well may go in on another day, and Liverpool's defense may well clear the ball that Gabby poked past Simon Mignolet more often than they don't. But this wasn't a case of Villa being battered and escaping with the spoils thanks entirely to good fortune; this was a team coming out strong in hostile territory, earning themselves the advantage, and doing exactly what they had to do to preserve it. A lot of people don't like teams that park the bus, and that's fine. It's an annoying strategy to watch when it's being deployed against your own team, and it doesn't lead to the kind of football the neutrals tend to prefer. But when it works as well as it did today for Aston Villa, it's pretty easy to see why teams will continue to do it until the end of time.
This feels like as big as a win can be at this stage of the season. 10 points through 4 games and 2nd in the table is tremendous, but this game definitely had a whiff of it being the day Villa were exposed as a much worse team than they've looked so far this year. That didn't happen. They walked out of Anfield with their heads held high, and at the moment, it's a lot of fun to be an Aston Villa fan for the first time in what feels like forever.