Liverpool rode their luck and benefited from a moment of sheer quality as they finally won at Anfield, edging past Aston Villa on their way to a valuable 2-1 victory.
Liverpool 2-1 Aston Villa
Premier League (31), Anfield
April 10, 2021
Goals: Salah 57′, Alexander-Arnold 90+1′; Watkins 43′
Alisson – 5 (out of 10)
There is a flimsiness to the Alisson of 2021, and this was on show again with a weak attempt to save Ollie Watkins’ opener, the ball squirming into the back of the net via his trailing right arm.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 7
Under the Three Lions’ share of scrutiny, Alexander-Arnold continues to fluctuate in form, with the right-back not totally up to speed again as the minutes continue to mount.
But with Gareth Southgate sat in the stands, there was Trent with the decisive moment, 91 minutes in, taking the rebound outside the box and whipping a brilliant finish into the far corner to win the game.
Nat Phillips – 6
The Lovren of the pairing, Phillips was again functional, far-from-flashy and, at times, frustratingly behind the run of play as Villa targeted the channel between him and Alexander-Arnold.
He should be commended for standing up to the challenge, though, as that is exactly what Phillips is doing as stand-in.
Ozan Kabak – 6
Again the more comfortable of the centre-backs, Kabak recovered well from a shaky start to offer composure as part of the spine, though he could perhaps have done better to thwart Watkins for the opener.
Substituted for the third consecutive game, which suggests Klopp may not still fully trust his loanee.
Andy Robertson – 7
Pre-match protests were that Robertson needed a rest, and that perhaps Kostas Tsimikas should have come, and after a quiet first half it seemed the Scot had snuck a peek at his Twitter timeline at the break.
He re-emerged for the second 45 with a vigour, offering a constant over-and-underlapping presence which allowed his shot to fumble out of Emi Martinez’s clutches and into the path of Mohamed Salah for the equaliser at 1-1.
Fabinho – 6
Broke up play well, offered an option every time in possession and looked to push Liverpool forward.
It wasn’t a vintage performance from Fabinho, but he did the job.
James Milner – 6
A surprise starter, but it cannot be ignored that whenever he is called upon he is almost omnipresent; whether that is for good or bad is another matter entirely.
At Anfield, he trundled into challenges and dutifully surged on with third-man runs, but it is hard to escape the feeling that he is at odds with the contest playing around him.
Gini Wijnaldum – 6
Always a Steady Eddie and rarely, if ever, more than that, Wijnaldum provided calmness under pressure in midfield but, with Villa so regularly pinned back, little in terms of decisiveness in the final third.
It may seem a reductive assessment, but the Dutchman rarely offers more or less than exactly that.
Mohamed Salah – 7
Liverpool’s constant, Salah made it 28 goals for the season as he smartly followed up Robertson’s shot early into the second half – if anyone was to score it, it would have been Mo.
Salah’s all-round game was solid, with his quick feet and ability to dink passes inside when under pressure giving the Reds impetus in the final third, while he chipped in doggedly to hold on for the three points at 2-1 up.
Diogo Jota – 6
The supersub who demands a start, Jota was not at his best in Madrid and, unfortunately, was not quite at it again on Merseyside, offering a direct outlet but often proving fleeting in his influence.
Jota was far from ‘poor’, of course, more ‘peripheral’, and it was a surprise he wasn’t hooked for Sadio Mane when the No. 10 came on.
Roberto Firmino – 8 (Man of the Match)
Restored to the side after a break in midweek, Firmino was much-improved leading the line between Salah and Jota, providing a presence sorely missed in Madrid.
His touch and interplay, dropping deep into midfield, was outstanding, while he was determined to spearhead attacks too, which should have resulted in an equaliser on the cusp of half-time only for the insipid intervention of VAR.
Firmino will never be Erling Haaland, and is unlikely to ever again breach the 20-goal-a-season mark, but on the return to Anfield he looked closer to providing what makes him so special in his own right.
Gave Liverpool more thrust than Gini, and played a key role in Trent’s winner.
Sadio Mane (on for Firmino, 75′) – 6
As Klopp noted before the game, Mane is struggling with striker’s block at present, and it showed as he squandered a late chance to make it 3-1 rather than an easy pass.
Xherdan Shaqiri (on for Kabak, 89′) – 6
Like Thiago, was involved in the winning move. Deserves to be given more than a handful of minutes.
Subs not used: Adrian, R.Williams, B.Davies, Tsimikas, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Keita, Shaqiri
Jurgen Klopp – 6
Should he have trusted Tsimikas? Should he have started Thiago? Should he have gone for a four-man attack earlier in the game?
There are a number of warranted questions to ask of Klopp with next week’s clash with Real Madrid in mind, but that pales in the context of the result – a first win at Anfield since December 16.
Liverpool got away with it slightly, but hopefully the manager can build on this in anticipation of another famous night in the Champions League.