Liverpool’s first Premier League home win of 2021 has finally arrived – but my goodness wasn’t it tight?
After the embarrassing 7-2 defeat earlier in the season at Villa Park, the Reds were looking to right that wrong and get some revenge on an Aston Villa side, who have been one of the surprise packages of the season.
Despite a response being needed from the thrashing at the start of the campaign, Liverpool fans will have been fearing the worst once again after the opening 45 minutes, as the combination of VAR and a lack of concentration led to the Reds being one down at the interval. This was the sixth home game in a row Klopp’s side had conceded the first goal and a trend he will be looking to put right as soon as possible.
However, when the sides returned for the second half, it was one way traffic as the Liverpool bombarded the Aston Villa back four for the final 45, getting there just rewards in stoppage time at the end of the game.
It will be a result that will once again inject some much-needed confidence in the chase for a top four finish, whilst also giving them faith before the pivotal Wednesday night fixture against Real Madrid – who themselves are coming off an El Clasico victory on Saturday evening.
Looking to the start of proceedings, it was a bright opening from the home side with a consistent amount of possession, forcing their opponents onto the back foot early. Despite this early pressure – and several chances presenting themselves – Liverpool missed all of the them, each as frustrating as the next. Unfortunately, this is nothing new based off recent form but considering the longevity of this poor run, surely the Reds would take one of these chances?
It would not be the case in the first half, instead Aston Villa would take the lead through a common piece that the Reds have been susceptible to since the start of the year, the counter attack. After an interchange of possession in midfield between the sides, John McGinn regained the ball for the Villains before playing through Ollie Watkins, who smashed home from the edge of the area.
Where in previous games, Liverpool have gone into their shell and seemed to accept the defeat, against Villa they responded in the right way. Looking for a goal before half-time, the Reds surged forwards and after a game of pinball, they thought they had equalised through Roberto Firmino.
However, VAR wrongfully intervened against the Reds once again this season, ruling out the Brazilians goal for Jota being offside in the build-up. All evidence shown pointed towards the Portuguese forward being narrowly onside, and Matty Cash kicking the ball during the move further strengthening the home sides argument, but despite all this the officials decided to rule out the goal, leaving manager Klopp speechless and unsurprised at the same time on the sideline.
Clearly infuriated by the first half performance and VAR decision against them, a stronger and more determined Liverpool team came out, immediately putting themselves on the front foot in the second period. Chances would fall to Robertson, Salah and Jota but all were denied by some brilliant goalkeeping and defending for the Villains. Yet the consistent pressure would eventually tell.
After a swift move down the left side, the ball found it’s way to an onrushing Robertson who stung the wrists of Emiliano Martínez with a fierce shot. The Argentinian keeper however was unable to push his save to safety, as Salah met the free ball to level up proceedings. It was nothing short of what the Reds deserved as Klopp’s side went searching for the winner with 30 minutes left.
Major chances came and went for both sides, as Trézéguet struck the post for Villa, whilst Thiago was denied at close range by a stunning Martínez save. Going into stoppage time, it looked like the points were going to be shared but up stepped Trent Alexander-Arnold who – after having a pretty poor game by his standards – grabbed hold of the ball at the edge of the area and thumped home a delicious strike into the bottom right corner with seconds remaining in the game, with England manager Gareth Southgate in attendance.
Upon the final whistle, a smile broke out across Klopp’s face knowing the extent of the victory they had accomplished. At the time, the victory momentarily lifted the Reds into fourth, putting them firmly back in the race for Champions League football next season. It will also give the Reds a sense of momentum with a big week ahead, with fixtures against Real Madrid and Leeds incoming. Hopefully, it can be another famous night under the lights at Anfield in midweek.
Klopp made two changes from the side who lost in Madrid on Tuesday evening. Naby Keïta and Sadio Mané dropped to the bench with James Milner and Roberto Firmino taking their places.
Here are my winners and losers from the game:
Roberto FirminoEmbed from Getty Images
In a game where so many players had an average performance, one player stood out from both sides and it was the Brazilian forward. After a tough season for him, a handful of displays in recent months have showed that the forward – that we have seen perform wonderfully for several years – may be returning to some kind of form.
Against Aston Villa he was the best player on the pitch, holding up the ball and distributing it in a similar professional manner. The best moves that Liverpool created during the game, initially came from a major input from the 29-year-old. His general energy looked back to it’s best, after a handful of games away from the starting line-up and was the stand out forward alongside Jota and Salah.
To top his performance, he should have had a goal but once again he was denied by VAR and you have to feel this strike was stolen from him. All evidence on the replays pointed towards his equaliser at the time counting, but as is his unlucky run at the moment, the officials saw otherwise.
He was substituted after 75 minutes for Mané and despite the last-minute winner, the Reds looked a worse team without him. Considering the form that the Senegal international is in and how well the Brazilian was playing, this was quite a bizarre substitution to make at the time. However, his time spent on the field will only strike positively with Klopp, and could see him in the starting line-up on Wednesday against Real Madrid.
Trent Alexander-ArnoldEmbed from Getty Images
After all the criticism he has received this season – especially in recent weeks – Trent Alexander-Arnold had the sort of impact on this game which forces all the doubters to eat their words.
His match-winning strike needs few words of description. Every Liverpool fan though their team’s chances of snatching three points had evaporated when Emiliano Martínez produced a superb reaction save to deny Thiago, but moments later disbelief had been replaced by delirium as the full-back produced something special.
But his performance was about so much more than that. His attacking contributions have never been questioned, but his high-profile exclusion from Gareth Southgate’s last England squad gave his critics ammunition to inexplicably question his defensive abilities.
Against Aston Villa he reminded us all that his supposed defensive shortcomings are little more than conjecture, keeping first Trézéguet and then Anwar El Ghazi quiet all afternoon and providing a commanding presence as part of an inexperienced back line.
More perfect was that this all happened as Southgate sat in the stands, the England manager given a 90-minute seminar on why he was wrong to exclude the Scouser from his last round of call-ups.
AlissonEmbed from Getty Images
The goalkeeper’s magical moustache disappeared before the Aston Villa game which disappointed many fans, but it was his poor attempt at a save for Ollie Watkins’ goal that will deflate many slightly more.
It is something that clearly isn’t a common trend as he holds himself to the highest level, clearly recognising that he is one of – if not the best – shot stoppers in the world. However, in the last couple of games he has allowed strikes to beat him that really should be basic for the Brazilian.
His display in midweek was slightly over shadowed by his poor effort to save the third Real Madrid goal. The Watkins goal in this game, in many ways, was a carbon copy of that, once again failing to deal with it. A lot of focus from outside voices will concentrate on this mistake, trying to bring down the best in the business. However, they will fail to notice the rest of his game, which seems back to the very high standard he has set.
He will admit it himself, but he hasn’t had the greatest season in the world but this is likely down to the ever-changing back four in front of him. He has had to make the subtle changes in his game each time a new defender is installed, which would cause havoc for every goalkeeper in the world.
Once a settled defence returns next season, with the influential Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez back in the side, the best from Alisson will surely return.
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