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The good, the bad & FA Cup final midfield – Last word on Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool

Liverpool sealed a vital 2-1 victory at Aston Villa on Tuesday, and here two Reds supporters dissect the win and look ahead to the FA Cup final.

Jurgen Klopp‘s men looked tired at times at Villa Park, but their mental strength and quality shone through yet again after falling behind.

Joel Matip and Sadio Mane were the goalscorers against Steven Gerrard’s team, sealing a 2-1 comeback win that saw Liverpool go level on points with Man City at the top of the Premier League.

City play Wolves on Wednesday night, which could see them restore their lead, while the Reds now look to the FA Cup final against Chelsea on Saturday.

Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by Owen Collins (@OGBCollins) to discuss another crucual win, as well as midfield options for the final.

 

The good…

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Tuesday, May 10, 2022: Liverpool's Sadio Mané celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: Well, from an objective point of view, this was a cracking game of football, and if you had nothing riding on it – like Villa, not that you’d have guessed – it would’ve been a hugely enjoyable spectacle.

I’m not sure if it was the familiar face in the home dugout, but at times this almost had the feel of a derby, such was the gung-ho intensity and the succession of snide fouls and meaty tackles – none of which seemed to concern Jon Moss (more on him later!).

From a Reds perspective then, two players stood out: Sadio Mane is in his best vein of form in years, acting almost as a psychological experiment when compared to Mo Salah.

Not only has he had the bounce of international success, but his own contract talks seem to have (until recently) gone completely under the media radar, and he’s playing a blinder as a result.

It could all be, and most likely is, a coincidence, with his current hot streak more a consequence of shifting into the centre, but whatever it is, it’s working wonders for Liverpool and keeping those slim title hopes alive.

And as for Luiz Diaz – have we ever run out of superlatives for a signing so quickly into their Anfield career?

A sublimely skilled yet doggedly tenacious talent, for as long as he was on the pitch it felt like any chance of victory would come through him, and any serious attempt on goal would have his fingerprints on, wherever on the pitch it was happening.

And so it proved, with an assist from the left to keep it all, just about, still on…

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Tuesday, May 10, 2022: Liverpool's Sadio Mané (C) celebrates with team-mates captain Jordan Henderson (L) and Diogo Jota (R) after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: It was a tough watch, but Liverpool won yet again! They really are extraordinary.

I think we all realise that Man City will likely be crowned champions, but this Reds side simply never know when they are beaten.

Trent was fantastic, particularly in the second half, Diaz was a constant threat, while Mane took his goal superbly. Sort that contract!

I thought Henderson did a great job when he came on, too. This hasn’t been his best season – far from it – but he stood up when he was needed.

The away fans were in great voice, with one particularly stirring rendition of Klopp’s song, and the manager’s substitutions were far better than against Spurs at the weekend.

 

The bad…

Jurgen Klopp (left) and Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard gesture on the touchline - May 10, 2022. (Image: Mike Egerton, PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

OWEN: At this stage of the season, we often talk about teams already being ‘on the beach’, but it’s rare to see the same with the referees.

Moss spent 90 minutes with the air of a man who has already retired from officiating, in his mind already in his slippers, circling the Radio Times and contemplating his herbaceous border.

Not a single yellow card all night, and although Villa could probably feel equally if not more aggrieved, this was the refereeing equivalent of that teacher we all had who gets to the last week of term and just sticks the Chicken Run video on.

Two bits of bad news revolved around Fabinho, with his injury casting a downer on a well-fought victory.

Early opinions seem to suggest it’s not too drastic, but it leaves enough of a cloud to get worried about Wembley.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Tuesday, May 10, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' goes down injured during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

That being said, his early performance left an awful lot to be desired, and we played much better once he’d been forced to make way for Hendo.

I don’t know if it’s perception, but when Liverpool are on form everything seems so natural – the magnetic passing, the overlap and interplay, the balls buried in the back of the net, it all has an almost predestined feel about it.

When the chips are down slightly, such as when you can feel the Premier League well and truly slipping away, there appears much less certainty. The first touches seem clumsier and the concentration levels lower.

It goes both ways – as soon as Mane put us in front, everything just seemed to exhale, Van Dijk was back making unflappable, effortless tackles and Ali was taking on one-on-ones in a way that didn’t cause even a flicker of panic.

Though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch the 92nd-minute corner through my fingers!

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Tuesday, May 10, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' goes off injured during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: As Owen says, Fab’s injury is clearly a big blow – the main hope now is that he is fit for the Champions League final.

Without sticking the boot in too touch, he was having a stinker even before he had to go off. He has those leggy performances in him at times.

A section of Villa fans singing ‘sign on’ was another low point – unfortunately, these ignorant people will forever opt for tribalism over compassion.

Tsimikas was poor for Luiz’s goal, and showed that he is still a noticeable step down from Andy Robertson, but did improve as it went on.

Mane’s failure to keep the ball in the corner and then Salah’s loose pass – both in stoppage time – also aged me about 20 years in two minutes!

 

And what’s your FA Cup final midfield?

LONDON, ENGLAND - Sunday, January 23, 2022: Liverpool's captain Jordan Henderson during the FA Premier League match between Crystal Palace FC and Liverpool FC at Selhurst Park. Liverpool won 3-1. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

OWEN: A lot will depend on if Fabinho makes it back to fitness, but I’m not optimistic, so I can’t see past Keita, Henderson and Thiago.

Although Naby blew a bit hot-and-cold, he’s still in a good place and has proved a fair few doubters wrong in recent weeks.

I’d back Henderson to fill in for Fab with composure, especially after yesterday, and Thiago has unfinished business with cup finals at Wembley.

Chelsea might think they have the measure of us after the League Cup final – they’re all still bleating they’d have won if not for VAR – so throwing the unused ingredient from that day back into the bowl should cause them enough problems to seal the double.

Hendo, Naby, Thiago, and then sub Milner on in injury time to take it into the corner until we’ve got our hands on the cup…

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Tuesday, May 10, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' goes down injured during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

HENRY: I agree with Owen – I think it’s looking close to picking itself, with Fabinho surely missing.

As mentioned, Henderson did well in the No. 6 role and is a certainty to start – it would have been bold leaving the captain out of an FA Cup final even if Fabinho was fit – and Thiago is also a shoo in.

If Keita is fit, he clearly gets the nod, but if not, I would go with Milner over Jones. The youngster isn’t quite doing enough at the moment, while Milner’s experience would be useful in such a big game.

Hopefully, it’s Henderson, Thiago and Naby, though!

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