• Liverpool step up efforts to sign Basel's Mohamed Salah
• Paul Lambert says Villa deserve more credit
Liverpool will intensify efforts this week to sign Mohamed Salah, the 21-year-old Egyptian winger whom Basel rate at £12m. More ingenuity, more excitement and more depth are always welcome, though they are not necessarily the priorities for Brendan Rodgers on the evidence of another Anfield trial by Aston Villa.
Like Lloyd Bridges's character in Airplane!, who picked the wrong week to give up smoking, amphetamines and sniffing glue, Rodgers chose an inopportune time to promote Liverpool's title claims, Steven Gerrard's development as a deep-lying midfielder in the Andrea Pirlo class and then to rest Lucas Leiva. And the wrong opponents. "Probably across the board we were not very good," the Liverpool manager conceded. "Myself included."
Villa's midfield diamond and front two prospered as an imbalanced Liverpool toiled without the Brazilian midfielder's astute protection. They resembled a cohesive, potent unit for the 21 second-half minutes Lucas was on the pitch. His exit with a knee injury after an innocuous collision with Fabian Delph may have serious repercussions for Liverpool's campaign – and perhaps January's transfer business – should scans over the next 48 hours confirm the worst. "It's in God's hands," tweeted Lucas after leaving Anfield on crutches.
It would be wrong, however, to pin a disjointed Liverpool performance and anxiety-strewn draw on one selection decision by Rodgers. "For me, the system is irrelevant," he said. "The style will always be maintained to control and dominate games. I felt we could be aggressive and our front two would really give them a problem but we never got control of midfield and we couldn't build the game from behind."
For the second successive season, Paul Lambert's team defied recent form and any confidence issues to impose themselves at Anfield. The Villa manager dropped and disciplined Matt Lowton for arriving late for training on Friday. Saturday was shaping into Groundhog Day for Liverpool, with Villa on course to repeat last season's 3-1 triumph after Andreas Weimann and the dominant Christian Benteke converted crosses from Gabriel Agbonlahor before an aghast Kop.
Daniel Sturridge gave Liverpool hope when he converted Jordan Henderson's exquisite flick in first-half stoppage time, before Gerrard rescued a point from the penalty spot. The captain's fourth successful spot kick of the season followed a piercing pass to the feet of Luis Suárez, two moments that redeemed a poor first-half offering and demonstrated the 33-year-old is not done in the final third yet. But that was secondary to the controversy over Jon Moss's decision to award a penalty for a slight touch by the Villa goalkeeper, Brad Guzan, on Suárez.
Villa, to a man, were adamant Suárez played for the penalty. Liverpool, to a man, were convinced it was a spot-kick. That showed just how unclear-cut was an incident that prompted vile abuse of Stan Collymore on Twitter for standing in the Villa camp.
Only one person really knows and that is Suárez. And according to Guzan, Suárez did not know. The mystery continues.
"I was pretty confident in myself that I hadn't touched him so I said to him: 'Did I touch you?' He said: 'I don't know.' That's the honest truth of it," said the USA international. "I thought at the time that I'd pulled my hands back and having seen it again on TV I don't think I made contact with him. Whether the referee saw that I'm not sure, I don't know where his position was, but from my point of view it was a soft penalty. I think Suárez was probably a bit surprised as well to see it given. Sometimes they go for you and sometimes they don't. Unfortunately for us it didn't."
In truth, the turning point had arrived earlier, in the 30th minute to be exact, when Agbonlahor tumbled over the advertising hoardings in front of the Kop, sustaining the injury that curtailed his movement and eventually his involvement early in the second half. Agbonlahor's pace and composure on the ball, allied to Benteke's touch and aerial prowess, had demolished the Liverpool defence until that point and Villa could have been three goals to the good – through Agbonlahor, the commanding Ashley Westwood and a Ciaran Clark header against the post - before Weimann struck.
"I don't think we get the credit at certain times, I really don't," Lambert said. "They have been knocked unfairly in certain aspects but they have been excellent for me. I don't know where we were in the league this time last year but we certainly weren't 10th. I think there is a misconception about the way we are going at the moment."
Man of the match Christian Benteke (Aston Villa)