It was far from entertaining, but Liverpool clocked up another three points in their pursuit of a record Premier League points total, overcoming Aston Villa at Anfield.
Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Premier League (33), Anfield.
July 5, 2020
Goals: Mane 71′, Jones 89′
Main man Mane
Before the lockdown, the talk around the potential player of the year was much about Jordan Henderson, who was viewed as the favourite for the Players’ Player of the year.
But for the best player, Liverpool supporters would have largely voted Sadio Mane as their player of the year.
The Reds’ No.10 was the one seeking to provide the impetus in an extremely flat first half, often playing the role of both left attacker and central attacker given Divock Origi‘s lack of quality.
And it was Mane who provided the breakthrough goal, finishing past Pepe Reina to claim his 20th goal of the season in all competitions.
There’s been many who have contributed to Liverpool’s title success this season, but perhaps none more so than Mane – the player who assisted and scored in the absolutely vital late win away to Villa in November.
What does Divock do?
The only eye-catching part of Divock Origi‘s showing was his new hairstyle.
Perhaps Jurgen Klopp was hoping the Belgian would catch the eye of any potential suitors, playing Origi ahead of Takumi Minamino in place of Roberto Firmino.
But in 63 minutes on the pitch, Origi offered very, very little. No shots, no dribbes, absolutely nothing of note. If this was a chance to stake a claim to remain at Anfield this summer, he failed. If it was a chance to catch the eye of a watching manager, it failed miserably.
On a day when Rhian Brewster netted again for Swansea City, Origi’s time at Anfield looks another step closer to being over. We all know why Klopp wanted Timo Werner this summer, and this showing further underlined that.
Quality depth in attack beyond the front three is absolutely essential this summer. A cult hero due to his Champions League heroics last season, but nowhere near the quality required.
Speaking of signings, the name of Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago has been on the lips of supporters this last 48 hours and this game pointed at why his creativity may well be something Klopp would like to add to his team.
It was an opportunity for Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the latter in particular struggled to make an impact. Oxlade did try some clipped balls over the top, something Thiago is known for, but they failed to come off.
Keita did more and it was his nice pass in that provided the assist for Mane’s opener.
Subs win prizes
One of the benefits of the temporary five-sub rule is the ability to make three subs in one showing, safe in the knowledge that you can still make further changes if an injury occurs.
That’s exactly what Klopp did on the hour, replacing the ineffective trio of Origi, Oxlade and Fabinho with Henderson, Wijaldum and Firmino.
It means that the game can be changed from the bench quite effectively and it was nice to see it pay dividends here.
That triple sub was then followed up by Curtis Jones‘ late cameo and first league goal in the final minute.
It was a surprise to see both Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson start and with two further games this week it’s likely each will be rotated in one of those fixtures at Brighton and at home to Burnley.
Neco Williams was on the bench again so perhaps Brighton on Wednesday is ideal for his first league start, while James Milner should be back to full fitness to allow Robertson a rest in one of those fixtures.
Jones had a good sub showing the day after signing a new long-term contract, needing two more appearances now to qualify for a Premier League winners medal. We could see the Scouser get his first league start in the coming weeks.
Klopp made just three changes for this starting lineup and we should probably expect more than that in these two coming fixtures.
Four wins from the final five games are required to beat the record Premier League points total.