Liverpool’s hard-fought victory against Aston Villa was praised by the media on a day where the narrative firmly surrounded the return of Steven Gerrard to Anfield.
It was a day where the 1-0 scoreline flattered Villa with Liverpool unable to finish off a myriad of chances, making for a nervy end to the Anfield encounter.
The Egyptian’s 21st goal of the season proved enough for another crucial three points and keeps the Reds just one point behind leaders Man City.
Here’s how the media reacted to the latest Liverpool victory.
The media were drawn to the narrative of Gerrard at Anfield once more…
On his return to Anfield in a competitive setting for the first time since 2015, Gerrard was a key talking point after the 90 minutes.
The Telegraph‘s Chris Bascombe pointed to an intertwining of the past, present and future:
Here was a Liverpool timeline in full view; past, present and most likely future converging to assure there is promise in the club’s short and long-term.
Liverpool used to take comfort in being inspired by Gerrard. They surely will again at some point in his management career. For now, they are reassured by beating the team he leads.
Melissa Reddy, from the Independent, felt Villa offered little threat of their own as they tried to frustrate the Reds:
There was no happy homecoming for Steven Gerrard, no “celebrating like a crazy devil”, no narratives feeding into future ambitions.
The man he termed “100 per cent the best player in the world now” saw to that, firing in a low, hard penalty to further Liverpool’s title fight.
The task was not to make it easy for Liverpool, but Gerrard’s men didn’t figure it would be this hard to conjure threat of their own.
The Liverpool Echo‘s Ian Doyle was drawn to the past Liverpool talisman and the present:
This was a situation Steven Gerrard had seen many, many times before.
With his team desperately seeking inspiration, Liverpool’s most talismanic figure had taken it upon himself to coax a penalty out of the opposition through almost sheer force of will.
The ball was placed on the penalty spot in front of the Kop. The Anfield crowd waited nervously in hope and expectation.
And the same player then thumped home from 12 yards to send the Reds supporters into delirium and clinch a hard-earned victory for the home side.
Oliver Holt from the Daily Mail knows Klopp has set a difficult act to follow, for Gerrard or another:
Gradually, the emotion of the return was overtaken by the rhythm of the match. This is a better Liverpool team than any of the ones Gerrard played for.
He carried the club for many of his 504 league games here and even though he played with some fine footballers, he never had the supporting cast he would have had if he were playing for Jurgen Klopp now.
Maybe one day he will stand here in the home dug-out but as Liverpool forge on under Klopp, still just a solitary point behind City at the top, the only thing for sure is that whoever succeeds him will have a tough act to follow.
Liverpool’s defensive efforts were noted as the Reds showed how to get the job done…
BBC Sport’s Phil McNulty noted the relatively untroubled afternoon at the back and the relentlessness to get the result:
This was not the flowing Liverpool that has steamrollered so many teams so often, but they stuck at it and eventually got their reward in the shape of the decisive penalty.
The success of Villa’s game plan was reflected in the Kop’s frustration and the sound of regular penalty appeals until referee Stuart Attwell eventually pointed to the spot.
Liverpool were rarely troubled at the back, although for long periods it looked like old boy Gerrard might just leave his former Anfield stage with a point.
It was a performance of “exploiting any weakness” once more in the mind of Bascombe, despite leaving goals on the pitch:
Klopp’s Liverpool have the capacity to skillfully work through the gears. They test every dimension of the opponent, locating and ruthlessly exploiting any weakness. Once ahead, they could have added more but for wastefulness on the counter-attack.
A priceless three points, on a day when all three of the Premier League title contenders needed spot-kicks to win narrow contests. The title race is on and it’s nervy – even in December.
The Guardian‘s Andy Hunter noted the frustration for the officiating and lack of Liverpool finishing:
They were the dominant attacking force but repeatedly frustrated, too, as Gerrard’s side absorbed pressure, worked tirelessly and kept their shape.
Klopp spent most of the game haranguing the fourth official, Graham Scott, over what he perceived as Attwell’s leniency but the lack of cutting edge from his title chasers was another cause of irritation.
McNulty, meanwhile, noted how free-flowing goals will not always be the order of the day and it is a case of adding the points to the board and carrying on:
Klopp’s side cannot inflict destruction on teams every week, and on a day when their rivals City and Chelsea also had penalties to thank for narrow victories, Liverpool will take his victory as it came and move on.
And Doyle echoed the resilience of Liverpool’s defensive effort and how they withstood the late test as Villa built up some steam:
This was a win ultimately forged on a 10th clean sheet in 16 Premier League games, a return they have bettered only once before when keeping 13 in 2005/06.
That resilience was tested in the closing quarter when, having forced the breakthrough, Liverpool unwisely took their foot off the gas and allowed Villa to muster a head of steam that was simply non-existent before falling behind.
And there was also time for some individual praise from reporters…
And it mostly came the way of Salah after his match-winning moment and overall contribution, with Doyle praising his efforts:
That it was the Egyptian who put Liverpool ahead was wholly appropriate given the manner in which he had taken the game by the scruff of the neck after half-time, with the Reds needing an injection of intensity having been frustrated by an obdurate Villa rearguard action.
Jones, on the other hand, pointed to his stunning numbers from the spot:
Salah notching his 21st goal of the season in all competitions. He has netted his last 15 Premier League penalties, the first player to achieve that feat since Matt Le Tissier in 2000. Record after record, for Liverpool’s Egyptian star.
But there was also words of adulation for Andy Robertson from Holt:
Andy Robertson was, as he often is, a force of nature down the Liverpool left, raiding forwards time after time.