It was yet another example of men against boys as Liverpool beat Aston Villa 1-3 on a cold boxing day evening at Villa Park.
It was good to be back at Villa Park as domestic football returned following the World Cup break and despite the result, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. For me anyway.
The difference between Aston Villa and the better sides right now is quality. We conceded three poor goals and didn’t take our own chances. We have been here before but under Unai Emery, it feels different. There is a structure and a plan. We must back Emery at all costs and I expect to see casualties throughout the next 2-3 transfer windows as he plugs the gaps in the current side.
Robin Olsen shook off a niggling injury as he was selected in goal with Emi Martinez still away following his success in the World Cup. Emery also preferred Ashley Young to Matty Cash who had to settle for a place on the bench.
Liverpool were at full strength as their World Cup stars were knocked out in earlier rounds.
Report: Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool
Villa should have taken the lead early on when Emi Buendia found Ollie Watkins with a ball over the top of the Liverpool backline but the forward was unable to capitalise as he failed to get any power on his effort.
Moments later, it was Liverpool’s turn and highlighted the difference between the two sides. Darwin Nunez was unable to take his effort but won his side a corner. From the resulting corner, the visitors took the lead.
Leon Bailey cleared the corner but only as far as Trent Alexander-Arnold who picked out the run of Andy Robertson with the outside of his foot. The Scot sent the ball flying across the goal for Mo Salah to get a touch and Liverpool the first goal of the game.
Villa tried to come back and had their chances. Firstly, Bailey skied his effort when Buendia found the Jamaican in the box and then John McGinn found Watkins but the forward messed up his header and he could only head into the ground and the ball bounced into Alisson Becker’s hands.
Liverpool were also threatening as Villa’s defending had a school-boy feeling about it. It felt chaotic at times and very last ditch.
The Reds doubled their lead just before half-time when Alexander-Arnold was not dealt with and Salah was able to lay the ball into Virgil Van-Dijk whose effort deflected off Ezri Konsa past Olsen and into the goal.
Liverpool could have put the game to bed just before the half-time whistle when Nunez broke free but his effort went straight into the arms of Olsen.
Villa looked better when the two teams emerged for the second half and soon had the ball in the net themselves. Watkins finished from the edge of the box but he was ruled to have been just offside as the goal was ruled out.
McGinn and Buendia then became the latest players to squander good chances but eventually, Villa did get one back through Watkins.
The forward got on the end of a Douglas Luiz cross to head past Allison and give the home side, who were now on top, a chance of getting back into the game.
Despite Villa’s dominance, Liverpool looked like a threat on the break and soon stopped any hope of the home side pulling level.
Nine minutes from time, Nunez kept the ball in play after a heavy first touch and when Olsen could only palm the ball back out, substitute Bajcetic kept his cool to round the keeper and secure all three points.
As I previously mentioned, it was a game of men vs boys. On the whole, Villa deserved more but if you don’t take your chances and defend as we did, the better sides will punish you.
Watkins may have eventually got on the scoresheet but he could easily have had another hat-trick against Liverpool. I don’t think that Unai Emery will be as forgiving as previous managers and the former Brentford man could find himself one of a few first-team casualties in the long run.
Villa will need to bounce back as they have a trip down to the capital next up in their New Year’s Day clash against Tottenham Hotspur.