Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge on target to secure victory at Aston Villa

Liverpool named an unchanged side for a change and were rewarded with their best start to a league campaign for five years. That's how long it has been since the first two matches produced wins, and Brendan Rodgers appears to be making progress in his search for the sort of consistency that used to characterise Liverpool sides when winning the first two games of the season would have been consider a stat barely worth recording.

Aston Villa now have two defeats from their first three games, and some of the sparkle suggested by their opening day win at the Emirates has already begun to fade, though meeting Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in your first eight days possibly constitutes a tougher start to the season than the one David Moyes has been moaning about at Manchester United. And just like Stoke at Anfield last week, Villa were denied a last gasp equaliser by the brilliance of Simon Mignolet.

After a frantic but uneventful first 15 minutes in which both sides gave each other an exploratory pummelling without producing anything resembling an opening, Philippe Coutinho wafted the first shot of the game over the bar after José Enrique had given Leandro Bacuna the slip on Liverpool's left flank.

That was the area Liverpool exploited for the opening goal as the mid-point of the first half approached, with Enrique and Coutinho again involved as the ball was whipped in from the left to find Daniel Sturridge in space in the middle. Ron Vlaar was caught flat-footed as Sturridge controlled the ball and made space for a shot, coolly keeping possession until the last second before poking a flick past Brad Guzan just as it appeared he might run out of space.

It was not quite the finish he was originally intending, but it was good enough for his second goal of the season. Liverpool were worth the lead for keeping hold of the ball better than their opponents and patiently spreading it around the pitch. While Villa looked to have the pace to catch Liverpool out at the back, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke were finding it difficult to make inroads against Kolo Touré and Daniel Agger. The visitors were also subtly altering their formation all the time, sometimes leaving Sturridge alone up front, sometimes Iago Aspas, and sometimes shifting to a front three. Antonio Luna, or Tony Moon as Villa fans have taken to calling their new left-back, did get behind the Liverpool defence after half an hour, only for Benteke to mis-control his cross. Benteke did better just before the interval, when he kept hold of the ball under pressure from Touré and produced a shot on the turn that Mignolet dived to his left to beat away.

That seemed to give Villa a little more confidence, and they ended the first half with a succession of corners and a rising shot from Andreas Weimann that only cleared the bar by a foot or so. Vlaar got on the end of an Ashley Westwood free kick in stoppage time, without managing sufficient purchase on his header to trouble Mignolet again.

Westwood was too high with a second half shot after Leandro Bacuna had failed to take advantage from a free kick conceded on the edge of the Liverpool area, then hit the Holte End again from a pass from Agbonlahor.

Villa had improved to the extent that their support began to make a noise again, the atmosphere had been almost sepulchral towards the end of the first half, though they were still shooting rather hopefully from distance.

When Benteke finally managed to gain a yard on Touré and meet a corner from the left he headed wide from six yards, yet at least he made contact with the ball, which was more than Weimann managed in a promising position when Bacuna crossed from the right. Liverpool were playing more conservatively by that stage, attempting to hang on to their lead rather than seeking to extend it, a strategy that looked somewhat risky as an emboldened Villa kept pressing forward.

One of Touré's many headed clearances fell straight to Agbonlahor to present Villa with a chance of an equaliser 15 minutes from the end.

Fortunately for Liverpool Agbonlahor is not the most clinical of finishers, and his first time shot from close to the penalty spot missed the target. That Liverpool were flirting with danger was clear when Mignolet misjudged a back pass to concede an unnecessary corner, from which Benteke's appeals for a penalty after apparently being shoved by Touré were turned down.

After Aleksandar Tonev forced a save from Mignolet the visitors withdrew Coutinho in favour of an extra midfielder in Joe Allen, a defensive substitution to follow the earlier substitution of Aspas, though in fairness both the forwards had been redundant for most of the second half.

Villa's best chance of salvaging a point came right at the end, when a flick on by Nicklas Helenius sent Benteke running free into the Liverpool area. With only Mignolet to beat he met the ball with a terrific half volley, which the goalkeeper did even better to push round a post. It was a fine, diving save, and Mignolet already appears to be making a habit of making last-minute stops to preserve slender Liverpool leads.

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