Liverpool’s final home game of the season was stressful and very, very long, but the winning run came to an end with a 1-1 draw to Villa.
Liverpool 1-1 Aston Villa
Premier League (37), Anfield
May 20, 2023
Goals: Firmino 90′; Ramsey 27′
The good, the bad and the tremendously ugly
It should have been a continuity of good form and a celebratory farewell, but this was a slog all game long without any positive ending.
Sadly, too many individuals were…well, individuals, not performing to the benefit of the team at all.
Luis Diaz decided he’d prefer not to pass the ball all game, Jordan Henderson was an abomination in possession and largely opted against doing anything out of it, Cody Gakpo couldn’t get much of a rhythm going even before he was kicked in the throat.
That’s three players who should be heavily involved in buildup play or creation, yet offering very little in each.
It took 50 minutes for us to get a shot on target – not a great one either – then the next one which ended in the net was ruled out for an offside that the ref had to check pitchside.
At the other end of the scale, at least Alisson had himself the customary excellent outing, a massive one-on-one save from Jacob Ramsey being the pick of the moments.
Ali being our ‘keeper, his performance didn’t lead to a whole lot of moments to score goals and win more points.
John Brooks joins the hotly contested battle
Worst official in the Premier League? It’s a vacant post to be decided, as all good awards are, at the end of the season.
Lee Mason was the undisputed heavyweight in that regard, but followed up his demotion from ref to full-time VAR by being sacked from even that role earlier this season – so now it’s anybody’s game.
Jurgen Klopp has already made it clear that Paul Tierney is very much in the running, while David Coote has long since set his own stall out.
But on Saturday, John Brooks put forward an equally strong case, not just getting 50-50s wrong but being utterly fooled by the most ridiculous of dives from the most minimal of touches.
The penalty call for Ollie Watkins was right – there’s his stopped clock moment – yet Brooks’, and his VAR’s, decision that being studded in the chest is only a yellow card was sensational.
Penalty on Henderson? Probably not, soft at least, but he also gave far worse outside of the box in a busy first half.
As for the disallowed Gakpo goal, the official explanation was that Brooks needed to check whether the defender’s flick to Virgil van Dijk from Diaz’s attempted pass counted as a deliberate action.
Which it was, clearly, so it should have been a goal if that’s the case – but yet another call went against the Reds.
About the only call you would suggest the ref didn’t wilt on was the added time: 10 minutes for all of Emi Martinez’s time-wasting and about 300 players going down injured was a glorious sight.
The Trent question for next season
Right, here’s a classic question presented which we have to solve across the next three months: how do you open up teams when your creative maestro is absent or ineffective?
Trent Alexander-Arnold was already important to Liverpool, but this new system is all about having him more central, more involved, more on the ball. And he wasn’t good.
Set-pieces were too close to the ‘keeper, deliveries from deep were overhit and in open play he overran the ball too often trying to do it all himself.
So where were the alternatives? Our wing play wasn’t great for most of the game, set-pieces weren’t a threat and the front three aren’t yet linking up with each other too regularly.
Creativity has many shapes and we’ve got to find an alternative outlet for next term, whether signings or patterns of play, for when Trent is marked out, injured or simply isn’t at his very best.
Firsts and lasts
The new kit got its first runout, the red number with thick white trim which will be on show at Anfield all of next season.
As usual, each fan can make their own minds up if it looks chic or cheap.
But along with that first, there were more lasts of note: the final Anfield occasions as Reds for James Milner and Roberto Firmino.
Both came on after 72 minutes, plenty of songs and cheers from the crowd for the No. 9, along with a host of homemade signs and the like.
Milner was typically understated – and effective – and he wouldn’t have asked for or expected any less. But Bobby, oh Bobby, he just had to have one more say in his Anfield career, didn’t he?
A great near-post run saw him finish a last-minute equaliser which would usually have been far more jubilantly celebrated had we not been desperate to get the game back underway and try to get another.
The final last we need to mention, such as it is, was our last day of reasonably hoping that a top-four finish could still be earned.
This draw leaves us three points off the top four with only one match left to play and there will almost certainly be no final-day drama to return to the Champions League.
Klopp’s responsibility and a final game to go
Not having Klopp on the touchline for the second time this season did seem to have an effect in the first half, with the Reds not really at the races other than the first and last five minutes of the half.
We didn’t manage a shot on target, we were second-best in midfield and the speed of play was ludicrously slow – then again, Klopp was on the touchline for all of December to March and we suffered through a lot of all that during that period, too.
So either way, the manager bears responsibility.
We’ve been on a great run in terms of results, but performances haven’t always been there even during that batch of wins – this result perhaps will reinforce the truth that there’s work to do both in terms of recruitment and improving the new tactical shape.
Still, there’s a game to go and now we just have to make sure fifth is at least the lowest we finish.
Away to relegated Southampton should be three points, but players should still be keen to not make any more slip-ups, and finish on a positive note.