Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool (Luiz 3′ | Matip 6′, Mane 65′)
It’s still on. Liverpool’s hopes of lifting a historic quadruple left Manchester City with it all to do at Wolves on Wednesday as Jurgen Klopp’s relentless team came from behind to win at Villa Park.
The Reds, who meet Chelsea in the FA Cup final on Saturday, remain second and City are ahead on goal difference.
If Liverpool do manage it, they will look on games like this as one where they really ground it out, while no one summed up their quality more than Virgil van Dijk.
The Dutch colossus breezed through such a contest of high stakes displaying masterful quality. But if van Dijk purred through the game, it was a no-holds-barred tackle in midfield that set the tone.
A ferocious challenge between Liverpool’s Fabinho and Villa’s John McGinn after 30 seconds opened the floodgates to a breathless start to the game.
That was swiftly followed by two goals in the first six minutes which lifted the roof off Villa Park.
Villa led after three minutes. Lucas Digne crossed from the left, and Kostas Tsimikas and Joel Matip collided into each other, leaving Douglas Luiz’s towering far-post header to be saved by Alisson.
But the former Manchester City midfielder crashed the rebound high into the net. Liverpool levelled soon after with a really scrappy goal of their own.
Matip stabbed home, but only after Villa made a real hash of trying to clear Trent Alexander Arnold’s free kick.
Tyrone Mings and Marvellous Nakamba got in each other’s way trying to clear the ball, Diogo Jota slid in and Virgil van Dijk’s angled shot was blocked by goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez before Matip pounced.
Villa, so often slow starters under Gerrard, tore into Liverpool, determined not to play second fiddle on their own patch this time.
Alisson’s mistake allowed Ollie Watkins a sniff of goal but he managed to recover and hack the ball away before the striker could take advantage.
Aston Villa: Martinez 7; Cash 6, Konsa 6, Mings 6, Digne 6; Luiz 6, Nakamba 6 (Chukwuemeka 6), McGinn 7; Coutinho 7 (Buendia 6); Ings 7, Watkins 8 (Traore 6)
Liverpool: Alisson 6; Alexander-Arnold 8, Matip 6, Van Dijk 8, Tsimikas 8; Fabinho 6 (Henderson 6), Keita 6, Jones 7 (Thiago 6); Diaz 8 (Salah 6), Mane 8, Jota 7
Then former Liverpool striker Danny Ings was just off target with a free header from six yards out.
Liverpool suffered a blow when Fabinho limped off on the half hour, to be replaced by club captain Jordan Henderson.
As the action continued at a frantic pace, ex-Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho flashed a dipping shot fractionally wide.
But Liverpool should have gone ahead for the first time in the 35th minute. This time Naby Keita inexplicably trod on the ball from Trent Alexander Arnold’s cross.
Curtis Jones’s dinked shot was easy for Martinez as the midfielder tried to punish sloppy play from Nakamba.
Into the second half, Alexander Arnold fizzed a free kick just over the bar.
Liverpool were gradually asserting their authority and went ahead in the 65th minute after Villa’s Ezri Konsa gave the ball away from their own throw-in.
Mané made it look so easy as he ghosted effortlessly between Konsa and Lucas Digne to casually guide the ball in with the side of his head from Díaz’s left-wing cross.
By contrast, Ings failed to show the same composure as he failed to test Alisson, who spread himself to block after Watkins put his strike partner through.
Ings again had a chance to score against his old club, but astute pushing up by Matip rendered the striker offside before he drilled an angled effort past Alisson.
Analysis: Liverpool vindicated Klopp’s risky rotation policy, but only just
By Daniel Storey, i‘s chief football writer
Over a series of moments, you missed what was missing: Kostas Tsimikas turning back rather than Robertson pushing on; Curtis Jones twice shooting when teammates had their arms outstretched; Naby Keita thrashing at the occasional clearance, pass and, most notably, a shot when unmarked 12 yards from goal.
Klopp spent Saturday late evening explaining why he could never coach a team to be defensive, so he must have been mightily impressed by the intensity of Villa’s start. Ollie Watkins had already had a shot saved and Liverpool been thrice robbed of the ball in midfield before Lucas Digne’s cross found two Liverpool central defenders unusually uncertain of their positioning. Douglas Luiz had two bites and dined on the second.
The opening exchanges were gloriously frantic, neither side in control but both seemingly happy to react to their results of their mutual chaos. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick appeared comparatively harmless, slightly looped toward Tyrone Mings. Somehow he – and at least one more – Villa defender acted or thought out of turn. Joel Matip had scored exactly one league goal in each of his previous five seasons at Liverpool; he ruined that streak by stabbing in an equaliser.
The result of such chaotic games is inevitably determined by who keeps their head when it matters most. For all the stunning simplicity of Liverpool’s second goal, the equivalent of the perfect cheese on toast, Villa had plenty enough chances to take at least one point and probably three. For all the focus on Coutinho, booed throughout by the away support, they should thank another former player.
This is an extract from Daniel’s on-the-whistle report from Villa Park. Read the full article here