Despite being far from their best, Liverpool rallied to secure a 2-0 victory over a resilient Aston Villa side at Anfield, in a game where the visitors had the lion’s share of the chances.
Dean Smith’s side had a number of opportunities to take the lead throughout the game but failed to take any of them as Alisson recorded yet another clean sheet in the Premier League.
His opposite number, Pepe Reina, put in a good performance in his first appearance back at Anfield since leaving Liverpool, but was powerless to prevent Sadio Mané and Curtis Jones from scoring – the likeable Spaniard was unfortunate that there was no crowd to give him a rousing ovation, and even more so to be on the losing side.
But Jürgen Klopp demanded a response from his players after a resounding defeat at Manchester City last time out, and while the performance was far from fluid, the result will have pleased the German manager.
The opening exchanges were rather tepid with neither side really testing their opponent’s defence. Mohamed Salah asked for a penalty early on after going down under Douglas Luiz’s challenge, but in truth there was little contact and referee Paul Tierney unsurprisingly waved play on.
Andy Robertson picked up the first yellow card of the day on 20 minutes when he tripped Douglas Luiz on the right flank. Jack Grealish’s delivery from the resulting free-kick was good but Ezri Konsa headed well over.
The first real effort of the game didn’t come until after the half-hour mark, when Luiz tried to test Alisson from distance – his right-footed shot was well struck but straight at the Brazilian goalkeeper.
Salah was the first Liverpool player to test Pepe Reina in the visitors’ goal, attempting a difficult volley with the outside of his left boot after Sadio Mané’s flick over the defence, but the connection wasn’t quite right and the Spanish stopper was able to gather easily.
The second half very much picked up where the first left off, with the Reds offering little going forward. At the other end, Grealish stung Alisson’s palms five minutes in but he was offside anyway, while Anwar El Ghazi was next to force a save from the Liverpool goalkeeper a few moments later.
El Ghazi almost had another chance to strike just before the hour mark after an uncharacteristic mistake from Virgil van Dijk. The Dutchman overplayed the ball and lost it to Douglas Luiz in midfield, but stretched those long legs to get back in time to stop the shot and atone for his error.
Roberto Firmino, Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson were introduced moments later in a triple substitution in the hope that the changes could provide fresh impetus for a side struggling to break down the well-drilled Villa defence.
Finally the breakthrough would come with 20 minutes left to go, and it was a goal made in Africa. Naby Keïta picked up the ball in the left side of the penalty area and played a pinpoint pass to Mané, whose shot rattled the bar before bouncing over the line, much to the relief of everyone wearing red.Embed from Getty Images
Firmino came close to finally scoring his first Premier League goal at Anfield all season just a few minutes later, but Pepe Reina stretched to turn his goal-bound effort around the post.
The game was eventually made safe as the game entered added time, as substitute Curtis Jones – fresh from signing a new five-year contract the previous day – found space in the area to shoot and watched as his effort deflected beyond the despairing dive of the helpless Reina.
Alisson made a huge save to deny Grealish moments later to secure the points and the clean sheet, proving his undeniable value to his side.
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