Today, Aston Villa faced Liverpool as Steven Gerrard returned to Anfield for the first time since leaving for LA Galaxy as a player.
Liverpool made seven changes from the team that beat AC Milan by two goals to one in the Champions League at the San Siro. The back four was replaced as Robertson, Van Dijk, Matip and Alexander-Arnold came in for Tsimikas, Konate, Phillips and Williams. Fabinho, Thiago and Jordan Henderson replaced Tyler Morton, Takumi Minamino and Divock Origi. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain started through the middle as a false nine. Diogo Jota, who has been impressive in recent weeks, was on the bench.
As for Villa, they made one change from the side that beat Leicester at home last time out as Matt Targett came into the side for Emi Buendia. Ashley Young and Jacob Ramsey played out wide with Ollie Watkins through the middle.
Story Of The Game
The young Villa lad Jacob Ramsey got things started at Anfield, and Villa were under a lot of pressure in the opening minutes, but they held their shape and beat their press well. Ramsey won a few fouls early on before Liverpool had a penalty appeal as Sadio Mane hit the deck. Nothing was given. The first real opportunity of the game occurred with ten minutes gone – a good team move from Liverpool ends in Andy Robertson firing a pass towards Salah who dummies it for Alexander Arnold, however, after letting fly, his shot was blocked by Matt Targett. Twelve minutes had gone and Virgil Van Dijk received the first card in the game for dragging down Ollie Watkins. Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez was called upon many times in today’s game, and his first involvement was a world class save as a Robertson header deflected off Matty Cash. Martinez got down low to keep it out of the net. With twenty minutes gone, Villa started to be a bit more expressive and started to create a bit more, however the discipline and regrouping as a team defensively remained. Watkins was booked for a foul on Fabinho with just under twenty five minutes gone, and shortly after, Emi Martinez made another top save as he tipped a Joel Matip header onto the bar. Liverpool had another penalty appeal as Robertson went down following a challenge with Matty Cash, but nothing was given. Villa’s first real chance came with half hour gone as Allison misjudged a long ball, Ashley Young ran onto it and tried to pull it back for Watkins, but he couldn’t divert the cross and it ended up being a wasted opportunity. Liverpool had a few chances towards half time. Martinez made another world class save as Salah came inside and pulled the trigger, however a good stop from the Argentinian was made. Two minutes were added before Stuart Atwell blew up for half time. A frustrating half for Liverpool. They were creating stuff, but Villa weren’t budging!
The second half began and Villa started off with half a chance. A cross from Douglas Luiz was diverted away from the eighteen yard box by Oxlade Chamberlain and went behind for a corner which came to nothing. It didn’t take Liverpool long to grow back into the game at all. They had two big chances which were well defended by Villa. A good team move from Liverpool resulted in Mings tackling Salah and blocking Mane, and then shortly after, another world class save from Martinez was made after Robertson whipped a corner in towards Van Dijk who rised above everyone and diverted a powerful header towards goal. Martinez reacted quickly to keep the Dutch centre half’s shot out of the net. Shortly after, both sides made changes as Morgan Sanson came on for Marvelous Nakamba for Aston Villa, and for Liverpool, Diogo Jota replaced Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. With twenty five to go, Liverpool were awarded a penalty. Mo Salah drove the ball into the box before being brought down by Villa captain Tyrone Mings. A harsh decision, but probably the correct one. Mo Salah stepped up to take it, and the man who was standing in his way was Martinez who had played well and made a few very good saves until that moment, but Salah got the better of him and slotted it in to the bottom right corner. Martinez guessed the right way, but didn’t do enough, and Liverpool were a goal to the good.
Emi Buendia replaced Ashley Young for Villa with just over twenty minutes to go as they looked for somebody a bit more creative and expressive to take the game by the scruff of the neck and level it. Danny Ings returned to Anfield as he replaced Jacob Ramsey, Steven Gerrard making changes to try and get at least a point out of the game. Chances flurried for Villa inside the final fifteen minutes. They did well to work the ball into the box before a pass across goal from Cash was cleared. Liverpool countered Villa’s pressure in the final ten as Mane, Jota and Salah were running at Ezri Konsa, however the uncapped English defender did extraordinarily well to keep them out. He may have been on the losing side today, but Ezri Konsa is surely not far off an England call up. James Milner replaced Thiago with just over five minutes to go as Liverpool tried to see the game out. Sanson put a ball through to Ings with five to go, Allison got there first and tried to get rid of it, but he fired it against Joel Matip before Ings tried to latch on to the loose ball. He tried to get a shot away, but Allison stopped that from happening by bringing him down after getting to the ball first. No penalty was given. Liverpool made their final change as Minamino replaced Sadio Mane with two minutes of normal time left. Four minutes were added, and Liverpool almost sealed it at the death as Salah set Jota, however the ball was sent high into the Kop. Shortly after, Stuart Atwell blew up for full time, and Liverpool were the ones that left the pitch with three points.
A disappointing result for Steven Gerrard and Aston Villa, but the correct one as Liverpool deserved it. Villa’s determination and resilience defensively was great, and ultimately, it was a shot from twelve yards out that cost them a point at Anfield. They made it tough for Liverpool to break them down. They regrouped as a team and were extremely disciplined. They just needed to have a bit more creative outlet in the final third. They will be feeling positive going into their final two games before the Christmas period.
Man Of The Match – Emiliano Martinez
The two words that come to mind when talking about Emiliano Martinez are “world class”. Although he was on the losing side today, Martinez did extremely well to keep the score so low. Against a good keeper, it could have been at least three goals to nil, but against the world class goalkeeper that is Emi Martinez, it was only one goal to nil. He kept his side in the game on numerous occasions, and if he had done better for the penalty, it could have been a different outcome.
Biggest Underperformer – Allison Becker
Despite keeping a clean sheet, Liverpool goalkeeper Allison Becker looked very shaky whenever he was involved today. For “one of the best keepers in the world” which is what Liverpool fans have been calling him since he joined in 2018, his performance was quite poor, and he made two mistakes that on another day, could have led to two goals.
By Harry Batters.