Daniel Sturridge’s rich vein of form continued as his excellent first-half strike gave Liverpool a 1-0 Premier League win over Aston Villa.
Sturridge’s goal – his eighth in his last seven league matches – was all that separated the two sides on Saturday as Liverpool made it two wins from as many matches to start the new season.
In a fixture where both sides struggled to assert themselves, Liverpool’s win saw them make their best start to a Premier League season since the 2008-09 campaign, in which they finished second.
The triumph also extended their superb run at Villa Park, as they notched their 10th win at the venue since 1998.
Of the other six clashes, five have ended in draws, with Liverpool’s latest triumph their third in succession.
Close-season signings Jores Okore and Leandro Bacuna were drafted into Villa’s starting line-up by manager Paul Lambert, in place of Ciaran Clark and Karim El Ahmadi, while Liverpool were unchanged, although new loan signing Aly Cissokho won a place on the bench.
Neither side could find their rhythm in the opening stages, as the contrasting styles made for a cagey beginning, but Liverpool settled first.
Villa seemed content to give their opponents time on the ball and attack on the counter, playing into the hands of the visitors, and although they could not create a clear opening, Liverpool controlled the tempo with ease.
It took a piece of individual brilliance for Liverpool to take the lead, as outstanding footwork and a calm, composed finish from Sturridge delighted the travelling fans in the 21st minute.
The build-up was relatively innocuous, as a Jose Enrique ball from the left floated into the penalty area, but a smart dummy from Philippe Coutinho allowed Sturridge in.
And the in-form striker showcased his skill with a series of delicate touches to take the ball around Villa defender Antonio Luna, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan, before he poked into the top corner with the outside of his left foot from an acute angle.
In a half where chances were few and far between, Villa were continually frustrated by Liverpool’s consistent defensive shape, but they did go close in the 41st minute when Christian Benteke’s curling effort forced a terrific save from goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Villa finished stronger in the first half, as Andreas Weimann saw his shot deflected over, but Liverpool were well worth their lead at the break.
The second half started much like the first, with both sides struggling to convert possession into chances, and although Villa had more of the play, all they had to show for it initially was two Ashley Westwood efforts that went well over.
Villa’s attacks slowly became more frequent and Benteke powered a header over from a corner, but Liverpool – who brought on Cissokho for his debut late on – continued to hold firm.
Gabriel Agbonlahor and substitute Aleksandar Tonev went close with left-footed efforts as the hosts continued to press, while Mignolet made an excellent stop to deny Benteke after he broke free in the penalty area.
But Liverpool – who could have won a late penalty when Sturridge was felled in the area by Guzan, only for referee Mark Clattenburg to wave away the appeals – held on for an important three points as their perfect start to the season continued.