Patience was the word once more for Liverpool as they sought to find the breakthrough goal, one delivered by Mo Salah to see another valuable win added to the tally.
Steven Gerrard’s return to Anfield dominated headlines before, during and after Aston Villa‘s trip to Merseyside but, thankfully, for Reds, the win came the way of Jurgen Klopp‘s side.
Chances came left, right and centre but it was a penalty that would seal the deal off the boot of Salah before the defence stood tall during a late bout of Villa pressure.
The result did not come easily in the end but Liverpool’s superiority was clear from the first whistle.
Here, This Is Anfield’s Joanna Durkan (@JoannaDurkan_) is joined by Aaron Cutler (@aaron_cutler) and Dan Clubbe (@dan_clubbe), who was at Anfield, to discuss the victory and what it felt like to see Gerrard in the opposition dugout.
AARON: I liked the intensity that Liverpool started with today. The manager had clearly sent the lads out to overwhelm Villa and, though chances didn’t exactly flow, we showed our superiority from the off and basically penned them in.
That pressure was ratcheted up after half-time and we laid siege to their goal in the 10 minutes prior to the penalty.
In games like this, hard-fought and nervy, you also appreciate the constancy of Salah and Mane. Not everything came off for the pair, with the Senegalese in particular hit-and-miss, but their perseverance and presence wear teams down.
JOANNA: Agree with your last point, Aaron. They were definitely the ones making things happen even if it didn’t show where it mattered most in open play – with Trent and Robbo also key in that regard.
It starts to leave you concerned the more you think about AFCON on the horizon, though. Just need to keep Jota and Firmino fit and firing.
Adding to that, the pressure from Liverpool was executed well as Villa looked to persist with playing out from the back, we forced them into making errors and they had little in the territory battle.
DAN: Despite failing to score from open play, some of the build-up play was outstanding. Mane and Robertson down the left were always a threat.
And that Mohamed Salah dummy on the edge of the box when the entire ground expected the shot was memorable and his penalty was one of a man who knew this was the moment to earn all three points.
JOANNA: The calmest man in Anfield at that point I think, Dan! 21 goals in 22 games now, incredible.
DAN: One last point, whilst this wasn’t a raucous Barcelona in 2019 Anfield atmosphere, it certainly had its moments.
Seemingly stirred by the presence of Steven Gerrard, bizarre refereeing decisions and timewasting, the crowd played a part in getting the Reds over the line.
AARON: We’ve become accustomed to poor officiating at Anfield but Stuart Attwell surely produced the worst refereeing display of the season this afternoon.
He was truly appalling, giving every 50-50 to the opposition and seemingly forgetting the rules on several occasions. I was astonished he awarded us a spot-kick… one of the very few things he got right.
JOANNA: Atwell’s performance was mind-boggling at times and you had to question if we were even watching the same game.
Little to no consistency, aside from giving most of the decisions to Villa, as you say, Aaron. And he didn’t let the game flow one bit, frustrating indeed.
DAN: Aside from the referee which Aaron and Joanna rightly mentioned, Liverpool were unable to break down an admittedly resolute Aston Villa defence despite having the lion’s share of the ball and our recent free-scoring exploits.
Once Salah had given us the upper hand and Villa decided to attack, we wasted two opportunities to kill the game on the counterattack – most notably Diogo Jota‘s miss.
AARON: That was a real frustration, Dan.
Our inability to kill the game off on the counter-attack and we had two or three breakaways where we outnumbered a ragged backline and failed to capitalise, with Salah and Jota both guilty of spurning gilt-edged chances. We could easily have been punished for such profligacy.
JOANNA: It wasn’t a day for finishing, not something we are quite used to this season but at the other end Alisson could have done without giving me a couple of heart palpitations!
And how was seeing Gerrard in the opposition dugout?
DAN: Four weeks ago this fixture looked relatively straightforward, then Steven Gerrard took over. All of the pre-match had been around that factor and whilst it was odd to see him in the away setting, all of the furore has been blown out of proportion for me.
Thankfully, we were able to get the three points with minimal fuss and there was little more than a deserved reception for a legend of the club.
Never a penalty on Ings though, Steven…
JOANNA: It was an odd and surreal sight, to be honest.
And that’s only due to the Liverpool connection, he looks like he belongs and he still very much carries that aura with him wherever he goes.
His tactics did bring a wry smile to my face as it came his way many a time as a Red and it was his job to find the key to unlock it all, but this time it was Salah with that responsibility.
The first of many battles and I expect the surreal feeling to fade rather quickly now the first is out of the way.
AARON: It’s been hard to escape the Gerrard narrative this week and I must admit to having mixed emotions seeing him in the opposition dugout.
That said I think both the supporters and Stevie handled the occasion well. There was polite and deserved applause from The Kop, and a small acknowledgement from the man himself on two occasions.
He’s made a quietly impressive start at Villa and it’s notable how his setup mirrors aspects of Houllier’s and Benitez’s before him. His sides will be well organised and a threat on the counter.
We’d all love to see Stevie at the helm eventually but on merit rather than sentiment. The early evidence suggests he’ll make Villa competitive and enhance his credentials as a result.