Liverpool 2 – 1 Aston Villa
It’s fair to say, matches between Aston Villa and Liverpool have been eventful over the course of this season. 7-2 a result that will live long in the memory, and a pacy youngster called Louie Barry bombing down on goal and finishing, to draw Villa’s youth side level with the Premier League Champions. It’s fair to say that Liverpool would be looking for a measure of revenge for the battering that Villa gave them, the damage done by the result arguably changed the course of the Reds’ season, with a real vulnerability presenting itself. The home side would be looking to prevent seven home league defeats in a row, but were in patchy form after a 3-0 away win against Arsenal, and then a 3-1 defeat in midweek at the hands of Real Madrid.
There would be no change of system from Dean Smith, in spite of the clear positive effects changes caused against Fulham. There were two changes to the starting XI, one enforced and one by choice. Morgan Sanson’s injury prevented him from having a place in the squad, so in came Marvelous Nakamba. ‘Our Son’ Trezeguet took his place on the left wing, after the Egyptian was the mastermind of the ‘Trezurrection’ last time around. Anwar El Ghazi was the man to drop out.
For 40 minutes of the first half, Liverpool dominated the ball and the chances. Tyrone Mings was nearly a repeat offender, as his poor touch ran through to Mo Salah, but the Liverpool forward put the ball agonisingly passed the far post. Villa struggled to keep hold of the ball in the final third with some disappointing passing, with Ezri Konsa’s header from a free kick providing the only real glimpse on goal.
Jamie Carragher made a mess in the commentary box after Roberto Firmino controlled the ball under no pressure in the middle of the park. It was a decent piece of control, but Carragher had his red-tinted glasses on.
With Liverpool wasting several chances, Dean Smith’s men seized upon their opportunity. Douglas Luiz controlled the ball after a Kabak clearance, the fed John McGinn, who feinted to shoot before playing in Ollie Watkins. Watkins powerful strike crept under Alisson in the Liverpool net, and Villa had an unlikely lead.
It seemed to have been swiftly cancelled out, when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s cross-field pass found Diogo Jota, after Matty Cash missed the ball. After a couple of passes, Firmino dinked the ball into the net. However, much to the annoyance of Carragher and Liverpool supporters, Jota’s armpit was offside. VAR-karma shone on Villa once again, after the dreadful spell earlier this season.
In the second half, it didn’t take Liverpool too long to score an equalizer that counted.
A powerful shot was well saved by Emi Martinez, but Mo Salah stole a yard on Tyrone Mings, and fired into the net. The play then evened out a little, with chances for either side. Trezeguet had Villa’s best, with his outside of the foot shot pinging off the post and across the goal line. Ross Barkley had opportunities to punish Liverpool twice after picking up the ball in space, but he couldn’t get a convincing shot away either time.
It was a painful end to the game for the Villa faithful. First came an impressive acrobatic save from Martinez, before Alexander-Arnold bagged the winner with an impressive strike, after Villa failed to close him down.
Villa had played well for periods, and threatened to snatch all three points. It was a decent performance against faultering, but high quality opposition. Time to move on to Manchester City, who have shown a gap in their armour after losing to ten-man Leeds United.
Emiliano Martinez – 8
Emi Martinez was forced into some acrobatic saves throughout the 90 minutes. It’s a shame for the Argentinian that his team mates couldn’t clear the shots he parried, as both Liverpool goals came off the back of great saves. Bar one poor piece of distribution, Martinez did well with the ball at his feet. There wasn’t anything Villa’s keeper could do about the late finish from Alexander-Arnold, it was hit too hard and through a crowded box.
Matty Cash – 6
Once or twice, Matty Cash was dragged out of position, allowing the likes of Jota to get in behind. Villa’s energetic right-back was lucky that VAR stepped in to disallow Liverpool’s first-half goal. Cash let the ball go past him too easily, which wasn’t the only mistake made by someone in a Villa shirt. With this aside, he did do his share of the defensive work, with three tackles, five interceptions and four clearances to his name.
Ezri Konsa – 6
Ezri Konsa was solid as a rock once again, the one time a Liverpool player got the better of him, he did well to commit a tactical foul to stop the attack. The young centre-back added to his long list of blocks with two more, and made a couple of tackles to thwart the Reds attack. There was one moment when Konsa let himself down. A free header from a Targett free-kick, that he directed straight at Alisson, a chance that should have made the Liverpool ‘keeper work harder.
Tyrone Mings © – 6
Tyrone Mings got away with another howler. Taking touches and passes on his right foot when the ball is in the air really isn’t his strong point. Both mistakes came when he tried to casually control the ball with his weaker foot. Several times, he charged out to press on the edge of the box, which prevented opposition players from getting shots away, but did leave the team out of shape. For all the criticisms, Mings was often the man to make a key block or clear the ball from the danger. He led the team with 10 clearances.
Matt Targett – 7
Up against a real goal threat in Mo Salah, Matt Targett did very well indeed. There weren’t many times that the full-back was run ragged or beaten. He also got forward to create a couple of chances, including a great run and pass into Watkins, who would have been disappointed not to control the ball. His set-piece delivery to set up Ezri Konsa’s chance was spot on too.
Marvelous Nakamba – 7
With one poor pass aside, Marvelous Nakamba played well before being substituted. In one impressive first half tackle, the shot opened up for Roberto Firmino, but the Zimbawean midfielder darted in to steal the ball away. His three tackles and two interceptions prove just how important he was in shielding the defence. He was also positive with his passing too, always looking to pass forward. Perhaps it would have been a better decision from Smith to leave Nakamba on, and take off Douglas Luiz, who’s influence as a defensive shield waned after he got a yellow card.
Douglas Luiz – 5
Douglas Luiz played a little further up the pitch, with Marvelous covering behind. The Brazilian was tidy on the ball, passing reasonably well, but he had little impact defensively, or on the attack. The 22-year-old made one tackle, and didn’t play a single key pass, or have a dribble. His lack of influence on the game showed as Liverpool found it easy to dominate the possession in the middle third of the pitch.
Bertrand Traore – 5
This was a game where Villa needed something special from Bertrand Traore, but this was one of his quiet games. The Burkinabe winger was wasteful, and floated through the game without having much of an impact. He also added in his trademark dangerous cross-field pass, which has never come off for him. If it has caused problems many times in the past… why keep trying it?
John McGinn – 6
John McGinn’s move up to the number 10 role initially paid dividends as his clever trickery resulted in the opening goal. Generally Super John was energetic and pressed the Liverpool backline. A couple of times, he out-muscled both midfielders and defenders, to create promising situations. As soon as Barkley came on, and McGinn dropped deeper, he became a passenger. He needs to be allowed the freedom to press and run and boss the midfield, playing McGinn deeper just keeps him shackled and ineffective.
Trezeguet – 6
Trezeguet ran and ran and ran, and only a knee injury could prevent him from running for the full 90. For all the effort, there wasn’t a lot of quality in the final third, but he did make two tackles and two interceptions. His big moment came from a lay-off from Ollie Watkins. Trez was ready to be the hero once more with a smart shot with the outside of his boot, but the post had other ideas, as the ball agonisingly made its way along the goal-line, before his hopeful headed follow-up was in vain.
Ollie Watkins – 8
Ollie Watkins was the architect of the majority of Villa’s best moments. His ability to press, win balls in the air, knock the ball down and hold it up for team mates, were all invaluable. Three dribbles, three key passes, three aerial duels won, one shot, one goal. The problem was often that he was isolated, and needed support or someone to lay the ball off to. With a change in shape that could and probably should have come, Villa could have had even more chances to add to their singular goal.
Off the Bench
Ross Barkley (65) – 4
There were two brilliant opportunities for Ross Barkley to put his name in the headlines. The first, with a lot of space and time he let a tame shot go straight into the arms of Alisson. The second, one-on-one with Fabinho, there was a chance to let a shot go from the edge of the box, but he held onto the ball for too long. After losing the ball, Liverpool went up the other end and scored. It’s remarkable how far away Barkley looks from the player that initially joined Villa.
Anwar El Ghazi (67) – 4
In 27 minutes, Anwar El Ghazi managed nine touches… Nine! It’s hard to remember a single thing the Dutchman did. Apparently he had a shot, it was off target.
Jacob Ramsey (81) – 6
Jacob Ramsey managed the same number of touches as Anwar El Ghazi, but in much less time. He also made a couple of positive runs with the ball, and won a free kick in the Villa half to help release the pressure on the defence. He should have perhaps done more to close Alexander-Arnold’s shot down in injury-time though.
Dean Smith – 6
While Dean Smith’s changes made the right impact against Fulham, they seemingly made Villa worse in this game. The play in the first half at times was sloppy, but Villa were much more wasteful in good positions after the changes were made. It’s fair to say games like this are a bit of a free hit, and there were positives for Smith to take away, but it is frustrating to see a point lost in the final minutes, and chances to take all the points squandered. With a different system, and maybe two strikers on the Liverpool centre-halves (who were clearly there to be got at) Villa could have hurt an inconsistent Liverpool so much more.
The fixtures don’t get any easier, next time around, after a short break, it’s Manchester City at Villa Park. The reverse fixture was a controversial game, but the performance wasn’t bad at all. With Leeds showing how you can beat Man City, with grit, determination and a quick counter attack, Villa must dig deep to find such qualities to give City a game.