Liverpool produced their most complete showing of the season so far to beat Aston Villa 3-0 at home and move into the international break in great shape.
Liverpool 3-0 Aston Villa
Premier League (4), Anfield
September 3, 2023
Goals: Szoboszlai 3′, Cash (OG) 21′, Salah 54′
Changes in the middle
Curtis Jones ended last season as the Reds’ best, or most in-form, central midfielder – but injury meant he couldn’t start this term in the side once again.
He returned here and immediately took up his left of the three spot from March to May, Alexis Mac Allister reprised his role deepest in midfield in the reshuffle – and to be fair was excellent.
The Argentine started the day with one good interception and was a brilliant, if understated, source of starting build-up play from deep.
Jones naturally looked a little rusty in a technical sense, but lacked nothing in terms of work rate, positional play and trying to support in the final third.
More might be made of Endo’s omission though, especially in light of Klopp’s comments about the Japan captain needing to adapt to a “massive change” in tactics at his new club.
First of many
And so, we must mention the other starter centrally – who has been imperious since signing.
He’s had a magnificent start to his Liverpool career in performance terms, but Dominik Szoboszlai just needed that end product to make everyone else sit up and realise how good he is.
That came fewer than three minutes into this game with one of the most sweetest-hit and perfectly controlled strikes you’ll see with a player’s ‘wrong’ foot all season.
The early goal got the Reds off to a flyer and was a good example of what was to come once more from the No.8, spraying the ball about with real class, offering plenty of hard running defensively and linking play through the middle when he could.
Darwin earned his spot – does he keep it?
Last week’s late win was all about Darwin Nunez, scoring twice off the bench to turn defeat into three points and getting himself the starting centre-forward berth in the process against Villa.
His first half was fairly typical of his overall game: hard work in the channels, a threat in behind the defence, but not quite having the clinical edge we’d love to see – yet he had a huge impact.
The second goal was all but his, crashing a shot off the inside of the post which deflected out, hit Matty Cash and bounced in. Then nearer the end of the first 45 he hit the woodwork again, a deft clip beating the keeper but bouncing off the bar and out.
In both cases he had composure and picked the right finish, after some terrific movement – only inches prevented him notching another two.
Add in a towering leap to assist Salah’s goal and although our No.9 didn’t get on the scoresheet himself, it’s hard to say anything other than this was the best overall performance by anyone Klopp has picked to start up front through the middle this season.
Perhaps being subbed after 65 was a fitness issue or just a note of a job well done; either way Darwin should be confident of staying in the XI after the international break.
Captain Trent and his motley crew
Skipper of Liverpool at Anfield in the league for the first time from the start of a game, it was a notable occasion for Trent Alexander-Arnold and the wider academy.
The No. 66 was pretty irrepressible in the first half with his passing from deep, aided by Villa standing off at every opportunity, and his defensive work was generally good too.
It’s notable that the team as a whole looked far more solid and the shape more cohesive as a result of the No.66 not inverting anywhere near as much in open play, save for extended periods of possession.
We’ll have to hope that second-half injury isn’t anything long-term, though, as he limped off after taking on a shot.
Given the starting centre-backs were the third- and fourth-choice options, it’s worth also pointing out they both performed well – Joe Gomez and Joel Matip both made one error of judgement, but were solid otherwise and made a couple of very good interventions.
Of course, talking about the defence can’t ignore Alisson – who remains the league’s best stopper and made another save here to showcase that, a brilliant parry from Cash’s close-range effort.
Onto the international break and midweek action
Several of the squad now head off on international duty, though perhaps Trent now won’t be one of them.
Starting the season with three wins and a draw from four is an excellent start, no question, though there cannot also be any doubt that this 90 minutes was the best and most complete all-round performance of the campaign so far.
Some of those other points claimed were perhaps not all by sustainable means, shall we say, whereas the Reds controlled this game start to finish and were better in every area.
It’s also nice to finish with 11 on the pitch!
Wolves and West Ham lie ahead after the internationals, but so too does the start of the midweek action – LASK and Leicester should both provide the chance to rotate, see some squad players involved and make sure Jurgen Klopp‘s preferred XI are fit and firing for the league games.
This was a much better showing, and there’s reason to hope we’ll see a lot more of it in the fixtures ahead if the squad is managed accordingly.