What a start to the season! We have the best defensive record in the league and only the rampant Chelsea sit above us in the table. I highly doubt we'll be involved in a fight for Europe in the long term, but this team keeps proving me wrong. Last time out it was Weimann and Agbonlahor, the best two players on the pitch against Hull overcoming their previous issues in home games. This time, Nathan Baker put pre-match anxiety about Vlaar's absence to bed as the man of the match. We have competition for places, a tight group of players that work hard for each other, experience on the pitch and in the dressing room. More tough games to come but plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Paul Lambert has got Brendan Rodgers' number
Not a line to his secretary, but an understanding of how to overcome his possession based tactics. Gary Neville put it brilliantly on Monday Night Football, saying that when he went to Anfield they only ever seemed to get points when they didn't tried to play - put long balls in behind and attack from set pieces, you will get joy. You have to be an exceptional side to go out and beat Liverpool with an attacking possession game. "It's not just Villa's way to play, it should be the only way to play at Anfield" he argued.
Lambert now has now won 5 drawn 1 and lost 3 of his matches against Rodgers, so he will have gone into this game confident of a result despite the gap in ability between the two sides.
One Moment: The tactical shift
This season we have been at a much higher level tactically than last season. I suspect this is partly down to better coaching. Culverhouse and Karsa were supposedly toxic and...errr...useless at Bodymoor Heath. It seems Roy Keane along with the promoted and highly rated Scott Marshall have been able to get through to the players a lot better. The addition of Hutton Senderos Cissokho and Richardson - who all know their roles very well - is bound to have helped too.
This was another moment in which I was proven wrong. I left the Hull game happy with the win but with the attitude that we can't just sit back in our own third to defend a narrow lead - it will hurt us against better sides.
We started really well in a diamond, pressing up and really attacking with purpose on the ball. After Gabby bundled the ball over the line, Lambert tweaked the system. It might have been partly in response to Liverpool playing slightly differently to expected. Either way - we shifted Richardson left, Weimann right and left Gabby as the lone striker.
Delph and Cleverley gave the Liverpool midfield no gaps to look through, Westwood kept Coutinho Balotelli Lallana and Markovic in check when they went looking for space. Agbonlahor did a brilliant job on Gerrard, as Weimann did last season, giving him no time or space to influence the game. The defence stood strong under pressure again and conceded only 1 shot on target. Coutinho might have scored a stunner that came back off the post, but there was little they could have done to prevent it anyway. Other than that we completely blunted a team full of attacking talent and penetrating passing.
We didn't look like scoring another, but we didn't need to with the wall we put up in front of the goal. Everyone in Claret and Blue worked hard and didn't take unneccesary risks. Liverpool's slightly fragmented and young attack struggled.
Can we keep it up?
Is this a sustainable way to play? Can we continue to allow teams that much possession/territory and expect results? I think we're very reliant on clinical finishing for us to win games in this style. Gabby and Weimann have taken their chances really well so far this season but I certainly wouldn't call them clinical over the course of 38 games. Benteke and Kozak though, that's another matter. They will score goals on a regular basis.
This is not something we can do at home, though. Even against Arsenal I think there is an argument we should be slightly more ambitious with our midfield play and look to take some pressure off by keeping the ball. But it is great to see that we have the kind of defensive solidity and nasty streak that got dumped on the curb with the rest of Martin O'Neill's possessions in August 2010.