Aston Villa produced a spirited defensive appearance at Anfield this afternoon, but lose thanks to a penalty from Mohammed Salah.
Words: Regan Foy | @findfoy
The big day finally arrived this afternoon for Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard, returning to his old haunting ground Anfield to face the club he captained for so many years. There was, as Gerrard said, no holds barred, and Aston Villa would be looking for all three points.
The opening five minutes were relatively even, and both sides looked up for the game. Jacob Ramsey, the latest academy product from Bodymoor Heath, drew two fouls in the opening few minutes after being felled by both Fabinho and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Virgil van Dijk was the first player to be booked, after a challenge on Ollie Watkins. The resulting free-kick, however, resulted in nothing.
The 16th minute required Emiliano Martinez to produce an excellent save to deny Liverpool their first proper opportunity of the game, with the Argentine goalkeeper getting down low and palming a deflected header from Robinson away from goal.
Marvelous Nakamba was booked just a few minutes later for a late challenge on Jordan Henderson after the Zimbabwean lost control of the ball and chased it down, before clattering into the Liverpool captain. Ollie Watkins was booked several minutes later for a rash challenge after tracking back, conceding a free-kick in Aston Villa’s half.
There was a chance for Aston Villa around the half hour mark when a ball over the top from Tyrone Mings allowed Ashley Young to head the ball over an on-rushing (and slipping) Alisson, before the winger couldn’t get the ball into a dangerous position.
From here, much of the attacking intent was Liverpool’s – but Aston Villa were holding strong and defending relatively well against the oncoming Liverpool barrage.
Just two minutes before the end of the half, Martinez was called into making another top save to deny Mohammed Salah, before referee called it back for a foul on Ezri Konsa after the defender had cleared the loose ball.
There were two minutes added on at the end of the half – before both sides went in level.
Neither side came out after the break having made any changes.
In the 52nd minute, Emiliano Martinez was called to the rescue again – with van Dijk rising the highest at the end of a Liverpool corner, and the Argentine ‘keeper rose higher to deny the Dutchman what would have been an excellent goal.
There was a period of prolonged Liverpool pressure, which resulted in four attacks from the home side that were all rebuffed. This followed with Marvelous Nakamba, on a yellow, being replaced by Morgan Sanson. Liverpool responded with a change of their own, replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain with Diogo Jota.
In the 65th minute, Liverpool were awarded a penalty as Tyrone Mings lost his footing while chasing Salah, bundling the Liverpool forward to the floor in the process. Salah stepped up to take the penalty, firing it towards the bottom left post and out of the reach of the diving Martinez, as the ball bounced off the post and nestled in the back of the net.
A change followed in the 69th minute, with Gerrard replacing Ashley Young with Emiliano Buendia. Danny Ings, returning from injury, replaced Jacob Ramsey in the 74th minute.
As the clock ticked into the 80th minute, Aston Villa were producing some excellent football to try and get back into the game and putting Klopp’s men under pressure. Liverpool did produce a counter-attack, with their three forwards against Ezri Konsa – who stood firm to deny Mo Salah an attempt on goal.
Aston Villa had shouts for a penalty in the 86th minute as Alison got himself into a mess – and looked to hit Ings before the ball – but the referee waved the claims away and VAR seemed to agree.
There were four additional minutes at the end of the 90 – and despite Villa pressure, the game ended in defeat.