Aston Villa tested title-chasing Liverpool as they pushed them all the way in a close encounter at Villa Park last night. The end result was no different from any other fixture that Villa has encountered this season against a top-six side, but there were many positives to take from the defeat.
Phillipe Coutinho replaced Emi Buendia who dropped to the bench despite a man of the match performance in the 1-3 victory over Burnley. Marvellous Nakamba was also handed his first start since his long injury layoff as Calum Chambers dropped to the bench.
Villa were out of the blocks quickly and could have been a goal ahead moments after kick-off when Ollie Watkins was denied by Alisson in the Liverpool goal.
A lot of talk before the game was about Coutinho and his pending permanent transfer to Villa Park but it was his Brazilian teammate who stole the early headlines. Lucas Digne crossed the ball into the box, and Douglas Luiz beat Joel Matip in the air to head towards goal, although the keeper saved the initial shot, the midfielder was the quickest to react and tap home to give the home side an early lead.
Liverpool restored parity just minutes later through Matip. Tyrone Mings should have cleared Trent Alexander-Arnold’s but he trod on the ball and after Diogo Jota beat Ezri Konsa to a challenge and Emi Martinez could only get a hand to Virgil Van Dijk’s cross, the defender put the ball in the net from close range.
The visitors then went close again through Sadio Mane but his headed effort went wide following a Konstantinos Tsimikas cross.
It was then Villa’s turn. First Watkins closed down Alisson but the keeper was able to scramble the ball away. Then Danny Ings, unmarked in the box, met a John McGinn cross but he headed over for a missed opportunity.
The game started to become end to end and Coutinho was eager to leave his mark on the game. The little Brazilian flicked the ball over the head of his marked and exchanged a one-two pass with Digne before curling an effort with the outside of his foot a yard over the bar.
It was the chance of the title-chasers. Alexander-Arnold fired in a low cross and found an unmarked Naby Keita, eight yards out but he somehow missed the ball and fluffed a great opportunity.
If you thought the first half was entertaining, both sides continued the high tempo in the second half. Alexander-Arnold came close when he put his free-kick just wide of the post. It looked in from where I was sitting in the Holte End but luckily it went just wide of Martinez’s post.
Coutinho then broke free when some silky footwork took him past Van Dijk but the centre-half did well to recover. Watkins then had a chance through on goal but just as he was about to unleash a shot he was dispossessed by Tsimikas with a brilliantly timed challenge.
Steven Gerrard was forced into his first change just after the hour mark as Nakamba looked leggy and was replaced by Carney Chukwuemeka. Ultimately it was Gerrard’s substitute combined with Jurgen Klopp’s change, introducing Thiago that earned Liverpool the winning goal.
Thiago blocked Luiz following a short pass from Chukwuemeka and sparked a counter-attack. Luis Diaz crossed the ball and Mane beat his man to head home and put the visitors in the lead.
Danny Ings did have the ball in the net for Villa late on but it was ruled offside as the visitors left Villa Park with all three points.
A brave, spirited performance by Villa but ultimately it was another defeat against a top-eight side.
- The high press and 90-minute performance were fantastic by Villa. On another day, they may have taken their chances and we could have been talking about a famous victory but it just wasn’t to be.
- Who knew Douglas Luiz would perform better in his more natural position? For the second game running the Brazilian has run the show in midfield. I just hope we can come to some agreement and get the midfielder signed up for his best years ahead of him.
- It was great to see Nakamba back in action and Villa looked like a much better team for it. He protects the back four and it’s no coincidence that we look stronger defensively with him in front of the back four.
- I felt at times that Tyrone Mings struggled. He will probably hold his hands up and accept that he will have better games in a Villa shirt. He looked unsteady with the ball for most of the night.
- John Moss. Firstly, let me make it clear, we didn’t lose the game because of the referee. We lost because we conceded two poor goals and didn’t take our chances. But that has to be one of the worst refereeing performances I have seen in a very long time. And that is saying something.
Aston Villa v Crystal Palace
Villa Park, Birmingham
Sunday, 15th May – Kick-off: 14.00 (GMT)
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