Lambert's faith in youth is thoroughly vindicated
Liverpool 1 Aston Villa 3The temptation to gloat was surely immense but Paul Lambert would not bite – even following a Darren Bent-less, Christian Benteke-inspired defeat of Liverpool with the youngest Aston Villa team of the Premier League era.
“I have my own thoughts,” was all he said when invited to respond to those who questioned his faith in the young of Villa Park. Whatever they are, the dividends are starting to show.
The average age of a Villa team that absorbed constant Liverpool pressure for the opening 25 minutes, struck superbly on the break and then defended stoically once more was 23 years and four months. Remove the goalkeeper Brad Guzan from the equation – Liverpool would still have struggled to hit the target – and the outfield average falls to 23.
There was clear unity between an impressive three-man defence of Chris Herd, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker, who came through the Villa academy together. Lambert’s tactics, and admittedly Liverpool’s final ball, stifled the home side’s attacking threat while his signings Matt Lowton, Ashley Westwood and Benteke in particular showed his eye for rich yet modestly-priced potential.
The Belgium international took his Villa tally to eight this season with two emphatic finishes while his part in Andreas Weimann’s sublime team goal – one that drew applause from some Liverpool supporters – left his colleagues and the travelling fans enraptured.
Even Lambert was effusive on the subject of his €8.6m signing from Genk. “He is brilliant. He can be anything he wants,” the Villa manager said. “He might not hit his peak until he is about 28, you never know. But he has been incredible for us. Everyone loves playing alongside him, he is really popular in the dressing room and his two goals were outstanding. He is playing in an unbelievable Belgian side, which is bringing him along as well . . .
“Before we signed him I spoke to a few people that he has played under and they gave a glowing report about him. Not just as footballer but as a guy, which is important.”
Benteke’s first came from outside the Liverpool area with a low shot that deceived Jose Reina and bounced in via the near post. Villa’s second arrived after a move began with Barry Bannan and was finished by Weimann after Benteke’s exquisite back-heel in the penalty area took out two Liverpool defenders.
Their third typified Liverpool’s failure to handle Benteke’s physical menace all game as he muscled into the area, ignored Martin Skrtel and Joe Allen, and finished from close range.
Steven Gerrard’s late consolation denied Villa their biggest league win at Anfield since 1914, but nothing else.
“We are trying to build something here,” said Lambert, who faces a similar task to Rodgers but with less expectation. “The signs are looking really, really good.”