Aston Villa 2, Liverpool 1
Wembley Stadium, London (85,416)
Liverpool scorer: Coutinho 30′
Aston Villa scorers: Benteke 36′, Delph 54′
Simon Mignolet – 5
Could have done better with the Aston Villa equaliser, which saw him poorly positioned as Benteke’s shot went in via the Belgian’s hand through the centre of the goal.
Emre Can – 5.5
Showed glimpses of his forward drive and skill on the ball, but never settled into the game thanks to the manager’s continuous changing of his position in the various systems. Didn’t do a bad job at right back.
Martin Skrtel – 4.5
Struggled on his return to a back four.
Dejan Lovren – 4.5
Made a couple of key interventions, but was positionally poor on other occasions and could be partly to blame for both goals. His shot over the bar from distance with seconds remaining summed up his and the team’s performance. Also missed two decent chances with headers at corner kicks.
Lazar Markovic – 6
Plenty of willingness to attack his man, and tracked back well when Villa left-back Richardson broke forward. Unfortunate to be brought off at half time, as he was far from the worst of Liverpool’s players in the first half.
Jordan Henderson – 5
Not enough leadership shown by the possible captain in waiting.
Joe Allen – 5
Like Henderson, he failed to take control of the centre of the park, as the pair were outplayed, outfought, and out-thought by Westwood, Cleverley, and Delph. Had a good powerful left foot shot blocked on the edge of the area.
Alberto Moreno – 5.5
Did little to influence the game despite showing good energy up and down the left. Made one great tackle on Benteke midway through the second half when the Villa forward was through on goal.
Steven Gerrard – 4.5
Off the pace and unable to influence the game from any of the three positions he played. Often caught on his heels when passes came into him, and sadly ineffective in the deep holding role, both in attack and especially in defence. Had one weak header from a corner cleared off the line.
Philippe Coutinho – 6.5
Another player sacrificed for the sake of the tactical switches, but still managed to put in a decent performance and scored the goal which gave his side the lead.
Raheem Sterling – 6
Isolated at times, but managed to play an excellent pass in to Coutinho for the goal. He knew where his team-mate was without having to look. Lively and willing to take players on, but slumped into his shell as the game went on.
Mario Balotelli – 6
(Markovic 45′) Came on in an unpreferred role as a lone striker, but still managed to link play up and pose the occasional attacking threat. Like Sterling before him he was too isolated. Unlucky to have a goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Glen Johnson – N/A
Rickie Lambert – N/A
Where to start? Liverpool used several tactical set-ups and formations during the game, each having little effect. The starting line-up was somewhere between the 3-4-2-1 we’ve seen for much of 2015, and a 4-3-3.
In attack Lazar Markovic would take up a very attacking position, with Emre Can becoming an auxiliary right-back in behind him. On the other side Alberto Moreno would take up a more all-encompassing left wing back position, keeping an eye on the defensive side of his role, even when the team had the ball.
This led to something like a 4-3-3 with the ball, and a 5-4-1 without it – once Markovic found his way back to defend.
The pressing was half hearted, and an ineffective waste of energy. Players would begin to close down the opposition before stopping and returning to their position.
After around 25 minutes, Liverpool changed their shape for the first time and switched to a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3.
Steven Gerrard played behind Raheem Sterling, sometimes dropping to become part of a midfield three with Henderson and Allen, and sometimes staying in an attacking position between Coutinho and Markovic.
The midfield pair would alternate roles, but more often than not Jordan Henderson would make the forward runs from midfield, whilst Joe Allen played more of a holding role.
The second half saw Mario Balotelli enter the fray as a lone striker, with Liverpool switching to a 4-1-4-1 formation in defence, which morphed into a 4-3-3 in attack.
However, the transition between defence and attack was rarely smooth, and the shape ended up neither here nor there.
Gerrard dropped deep into the holding role he played for much of the 2013/14 season, with Allen and Henderson operating in front of him.
Can and Moreno looked to get forward from the full-back positions.
The formation between the time of Glen Johnson coming on, and late in the game when Rickie Lambert arrived was difficult to decipher.
Johnson went to right back with Can taking up Allen’s place in midfield, but the German’s role was a lot more attacking than Allen’s.
Sterling play from the left but could often be seen up front with Balotelli, whilst Henderson made forward runs from the right. Coutinho looked to have something of a free role by this stage, but was often stationed beside Can and behind Balotelli.
The closest numerical formation might be the 4-1-4-1 which we’ve seen on the odd occasion already this season, but this system used late in the game never seemed to settle onto an obvious shape.
Rickie Lambert came on in extra time, and by this time the team looked to have abandoned any structure and were using what little energy they had left to make things happen individually.
Everyone except Skrtel and Lovren looked to push forward, but it was too little, too late.