Football: In-form Sturridge sees Liverpool past Villa
BIRMINGHAM, United Kingdom (AFP) - Daniel Sturridge was Liverpool's match-winner for the second successive weekend as they continued their strong start to the Premier League season by winning 1-0 at Aston Villa on Saturday.
Just as he did against Stoke City last Saturday, the England international scored the only goal of the game to make it eight strikes in his last seven league appearances.
Whether victories over Villa and the Potters are sufficient evidence to suggest Brendan Rodgers's team can be Champions League contenders this term remains to be seen.
Next weekend's meeting with Manchester United will provide a better benchmark, but all the signs point towards continuing improvement under the Northern Irishman.
After their stunning opening-day win at Arsenal and unfortunate defeat at Chelsea on Wednesday, this appeared one game too many for a jaded-looking Villa, however, in what has been a taxing start to the campaign.
Paul Lambert's side improved hugely after the interval and were left to rue missed opportunities late on. They have, though, still done enough this week to suggest they can avoid another relegation skirmish.
Liverpool manager Rodgers named the same side that defeated Stoke last weekend, while there was a debut for Netherlands Under-21 midfielder Leandro Bacuna and a first start for Denmark defender Jores Okore as Lambert made two changes to the Villa side narrowly beaten 2-1 at Chelsea.
Liverpool soon began to take charge with the sort of patient, possession passing that has become a hallmark of Rodgers's sides.
In the 10th minute Antonio Luna did well to block a Sturridge shot after the forward neatly interchanged passes with Jordan Henderson.
By the 21st minute he had made his mark, however, and in some style.
Sturridge had Philippe Coutinho at least partially to thank after the Brazilian cleverly dummied Jose Enrique's low cross, yet he still had much to do, jinking around two defenders and Brad Guzan, the goalkeeper, before firing into the roof of the net.
It was no more than the Reds deserved for their dominance and, given this was their opening home match of the season, there was a disappointing sluggishness about Villa, despite the mitigating circumstances of their mid-week exploits.
Christian Benteke sparked into life four minutes before the interval when, 18 yards out with his back to goal, he turned sharply to buy himself half a yard before wrapping his right foot around a curling effort that was destined for the far corner until Simon Mignolet tipped it around the post.
It was Villa who ended the half the stronger and they almost levelled seconds before the whistle when Andreas Weimann's drive took a wicked deflection off Daniel Agger only to fly just over the crossbar.
Villa had skipper Ron Vlaar to thank when he cut out Sturridge's dangerous cross after Matt Lowton had been dispossessed inside the Liverpool half.
Lambert did his best to rouse his team from the sidelines and there was a greater urgency about their play as the game wore on, with Ashley Westwood driving over after Lowton's cross was only half-cleared.
They ended the game very much on the front foot.
Gabriel Agbonlahor fired disappointingly wide when Kolo Toure's clearance fell invitingly on the edge of the area, while it took a stunning save from Mignolet to repel Benteke's vicious strike late on.