Pre-game headlines surrounded Steven Gerrard’s return to Anfield but it was a case of same as usual for Liverpool: Mo Salah scoring and three points in the bank.
Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa
Premier League, Anfield
11 December, 2021
Goals: Salah pen 67′
Alisson Becker – 5 (out of 10)
Hearts in mouths stuff when he slipped on the wet turf! Thankfully escaped that one and no real first-half drama apart from it.
He then didn’t have a whole lot to do until the final stages, when Ali decided to make it interesting again: booted the ball at Matip, swiped at Ings, just about got away with it all.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – 8
Some of his whipped crosses were just stunning – but never anybody making that run across the defence to get on the end of them. Really unlucky with a deflected shot at the end of the best move of the first half.
Loads of times went on the overlap and didn’t get the pass to him which would have surely seen a signature low, first-time ball and tap-in for someone.
Joel Matip – 8
Did he put a foot wrong here? No trademark Joel surges into midfield today until late on, but all his defensive work was spot-on, whether defending set-pieces or dropping deep to cover counters recycle the ball.
No frills, aside from some fired-through passes into the final third, but very definitely no spills either.
Virgil van Dijk – 8
Did get caught once early on by Watkins which saw Big Virg booked, but the rest was pretty smooth and special. Big crossfield passes, powerful defensive headers and one effort on goal which looked in all the way.
Late on when Villa mounted attacks it was Van Dijk, again and again, who kept heading and clearing to preserve the clean sheet.
Andy Robertson – 8
Absolutely tormented Villa in that first half – could have had a goal, an assist, won a penalty or all three. Relentless with his pace and ability to beat Cash and deliver a ball over.
Second half wasn’t as relentless with the running into the final third, but he stuck the plan defensively too, tracking Villa’s runners and blocking the cross all the time.
Non-stop Andy Robbo is the best Andy Robbo!
Fabinho – 9 – Man of the Match
From minute one to 75, this was all very typical Fab: tidy up bits, block off runs, win the tackles and play it cleverly.
But from 75 onwards you saw why he’s the best: picking those positions in and around the box to stop everything. Crosses, cut-backs, loose bouncing balls and everything else – Fabinho was where the space and the danger would have been if anyone else was playing.
Jordan Henderson – 8
Some decent driving runs and nice link play down the channel at times. Constant running in both directions to keep Villa under pressure and was rightly in the ref’s ear constantly with all the time wasting.
Second half he was alongside Fabinho to defend that onslaught, making one vital interception and another key clearance which initiated one of those many, many late breakaway chances. Really good from the skipper.
Thiago Alcantara – 7
Another game, another clean sheet with this man in the team. Coincidence, no question!
Some excellent first-half work and early on after the restart to keep those waves of pressure going – it looks easy, but he picks the right ball every time to keep moving Villa around.
Not quite able to get a few shots away from range as he was closed down so fast. Subbed late on.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7
Played just behind the front line, attacking from deep in what was effectively a diamond. Had his moments in the first half switching play and with one strike from range, but not as heavily involved as he usually is as a No8.
Some of his hard work off the ball went unrewarded, while more was chasing back to stop Villa’s counters and restart our own attacking play.
Probably a frustration for him but more action for one of our in-form players.
Mohamed Salah – 8
On and off in the first half, triple-marked and then drifting past people to open up spaces. Inevitably involved in the best moves and moments throughout.
Maybe once or twice could have teed up a team-mate at 0-0 instead of shooting but who would you rather have pulling the trigger?
Then Mo turned into Magic Mo when we needed him: won the penalty, scored the penalty. Should have added another with a three-on-one breakaway too, but opted to pass.
Sadio Mane – 8
The game’s best player by a distance in the first half. Along with Robbo he was unstoppable with quick dribbles, really good changes of pace and a few nice balls into the box.
One blocked shot just after the restart and then another late curler looked to be heading in before it was deflected over.
Set away the three-on-one chance, too.
Diogo Jota (on for Oxlade-Chamberlain, 58′) – 5 – Could have scored with his first touch, almost netted after a short backpass and some loose touches in the defensive half just to add to the excitement. Had to score late on. Missed two.
Takumi Minamino (on for Mane, 88′) – n/a – To see out the game.
Subs not used: Kelleher, Gomez, Konate, Williams, Tsimikas, Keita
Jurgen Klopp – 8
Hard to fault Jurgen really; the team was fired up, the performance was good, we should have won by two or three. He can’t put the ball in the net, though.
Made changes to ensure we kept the clean sheet and saw out the one-goal victory, didn’t let the ‘Gerrard occasion’ take precedence over the points and certainly gave Stevie a lesson in how high management’s ceilings can go.
He’ll be pleased at the shut-out, no doubt – but let’s regain that clinical edge.