By Jonathan Parkin
A visit to the newly crowned Champions Liverpool is a daunting task for any team, let alone a misfiring Aston Villa side that hasn’t won in eight games. Many of the Villa faithful would have been scared after seeing the Reds taken apart by Manchester city, seemingly poking a sleeping bear in perfect time for the Villa’s trip north. Plus, their champagne hangovers should have just about worn off by now.
The boys in claret and blue had rocketed up the table, to the lofty heights of 18th, thanks Bournemouth’s ability to ship goals. Despite this, four points in two games for West Ham had certainly upped the pressure on the Villa’s tame attempt to stay up.
Dean Smith scrapped the idea of two up front before he had really given it a fair try (even five at the back got a run of games). Anwar El Ghazi and Trezeguet regained their places, by virtue of being Villa’s only options on the wing, and Orjan Nyland lost his place to Pepe Reina in goal. John McGinn and Neil Taylor also returned to the fold.
For 70 minutes the Champions huffed and puffed and struggled to break through a stern Villa backline. The Villans even showed the greater threat on the front foot with some promising breaks, including one that ended with a low shot from El Ghazi. They couldn’t make the most of the poor Liverpool display however, as Jurgen Klopp brought on the A team of Firmino, Wijnaldum and Henderson to try and get the goal to go ahead.
The Reds created one chance, and Sadio Mane deftly finished it. From then on, the Villa conjured up nothing from the scraps of possession they got, and Liverpool killed the game off late on with a Curtis Jones strike.
There was a lot to be applauded from the Villans as they held their own against the World Champions. It doesn’t change the fact though, that it is another game where they haven’t scored and haven’t taken any points, when it looked like they could have. With Watford having the chance to put the pressure on if they beat Norwich in their next match, it is going to take something special from Villa to stay up.
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Aston Villa Player Ratings
Pepe Reina – 6.5
Former Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina didn’t have a great deal to do on his return to Anfield. He made one impressive diving save from a Firmino shot in the second half, and claimed crosses in a calm fashion. This is something that will have given the defence a great deal of confidence.
Ezri Konsa- 6
Ezri Konsa was untroubled for the most part when dealing with any of the Liverpool front three. The young defender was calm and composed when taking the ball out of defence too. Despite this, the one-time Konsa failed to close down his man, Naby Keita played the ball across to Mane for the opener.
Kortney Hause – 6.5
Kortney Hause made seven blocks and a handful of tackles and clearances in a performance that showed he is improving as a player. He passed the ball competently, minus a dodgy ball out from the back in the second half. The 24-year-old was unlucky not to cut out the Naby Keita cross for the opener with an outstretched leg.
Tyrone Mings – 5.5
For all the blocks and clearances Tyrone Mings makes, he has continued to make one fatal error in the games after the break. He seems much more focussed on holding the defensive line instead of closing down the attacker in front of him. The free space afforded to both Sadio Mane and Curtis Jones for both goals cannot be allowed to happen. Opposition players cannot be allowed time and space to shoot in the box.
Neil Taylor – 6.5
Though the idea of Neil Taylor up against Mo Salah may have given many Villa fans some sleepless nights, the Welshman managed to quieten the Egyptian. He doesn’t offer anything going forward, particularly when the team is looking to play on the break, but he did his job well. It could be said that Taylor was at fault for the Mane goal, but Mings didn’t help out his full back and close the gap he’d left.
Douglas Luiz – 7 MOTM
The accomplished performances keep coming from Douglas Luiz, it’s a shame they couldn’t come in the midst of better team performances. The Brazilian made a team leading five interceptions, and got forward on the break when he was needed. It may be difficult for Villa to keep hold of the 22-year-old.
John McGinn – 6
It was another half-baked performance from John McGinn. There were glimpses of the dynamism that has made him so popular at Villa Park, but his pressing wasn’t good enough late on. The lack of energy in midfield in the last 20 minutes contributed to Villa’s demise.
Anwar El Ghazi – 6.5
Winger Anwar El Ghazi certainly had a better game than his recent form suggested he would. When Villa broke, El Ghazi was a key part of the attack, and he had one of Villa’s best chances as his low strike was saved by Alisson. While his defensive effort can be suspect, he did little to expose Konsa at right-back, something Villa fans would definitely like to see more often.
Jack Grealish © – 6.5
Super Jack Grealish added some directness to his game. The creative midfielder played a couple of key passes as well as taking on two shots, one of which required a decent save from Alisson to stop it finding the bottom corner. With the added spark in Jack’s game, there also came a few errors, some poor touches and misplaced passes meant the skipper didn’t do as much damage as he could have (or needed to).
Trezeguet – 5.5
Trezeguet had little say in a game where Villa needed pace and skill on the break. The Egyptian tracked back and did his job defensively, but in a game of few chances there needs to be some attacking quality, which he certainly didn’t deliver.
Keinan Davis – 6
Hard-working striker Keinan Davis found it difficult to assert himself against Virgil Van Dijk and Joe Gomez. The effort was there, and he did hold up the ball and create space from time to time, but the experience of Van Dijk meant Davis was easily dealt with for large periods.
Off the Bench
Ally Samatta (73) – 5
It has been very frustrating to watch Ally Samatta after the break. The striker that made good runs in the box and looked as if he could stick a chance away seems to have faded. He didn’t run the channels, didn’t close down at all and didn’t challenge the Liverpool backline in the slightest.
Jota (73) – 5.5
A big problem for the Villa this season has been a lack of pace, and bringing on Jota didn’t add any as the Villans chased the game. Counter attacking requires powerful, quick players, Jota is exactly the opposite of that.
Indiana Vassilev – n/a
Speaking of pace, Indiana Vassilev seems to have some in his legs. This is an intriguing prospect for Villa when coming up against Manchester United on Thursday, as Maguire and Lindelof aren’t the quickest defenders. Using Vassilev’s speed in behind could provide Villa with a way in against United.
Dean Smith – 6
Villa have certainly looked a better defensively drilled team, and they certainly dug in and gave Liverpool a game, and could have easily picked up a point. The question remains, why couldn’t there have been this level of effort in games that were more winnable earlier this season?
A point against Liverpool was unlikely, but probably necessary for Villa to stay up, particularly with Watford’s easier run in. As has been the case in recent weeks, Villa will have to rely on other teams losing to be in with a chance of avoiding the drop, which is much harder to control that your own games.
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