Mohamed Salah strikes again as Liverpool beat Aston Villa to ruin Steven Gerrard’s homecoming

Liverpool 1-0 Aston Villa: Salah’s penalty settles the match to keep the Reds in touch at the top

Melissa Reddy
Anfield
Saturday 11 December 2021 17:52
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Steven Gerrard's Legendary Liverpool Career

There was no happy homecoming for Steven Gerrard, no “celebrating like a crazy devil”, no narratives feeding into future ambitions. The man he termed “100 per cent the best player in the world now” saw to that, firing in a low, hard penalty to further Liverpool’s title fight.

Mohamed Salah’s direct goal contribution ticked over to 14 consecutive league games, his 67th-minute winner deflating an Aston Villa side that departed without a shot on target.

The task was not to make it easy for Liverpool, but Gerrard’s men didn’t figure it would be this hard to conjure threat of their own.

The scoreline belied a story of enterprise versus total obstruction, with substitute Diogo Jota missing a glorious chance late on to make that clearer.

Perhaps the only piece of the occasion Gerrard enjoyed was the pre-match niceties.

Fresh out of the tunnel, there was warm applause – first to the away end and then to acknowledge the welcome from the supporters that he was one of, that became his. There was a slight glance over at The Kop; not too long, not too lustful, just enough to take it in and breathe it all out.

From the moment Gerrard had scanned the fixture list while in talks to become Aston Villa manager, he knew right here would be the challenge: Jurgen Klopp’s free-scoring title contenders at Anfield.

Liverpool as the opponent for the first time in his life. There was a hug with Klopp and handshakes with Pep Lijnders before the whistle signalled a switch to battle mode. In persistent rain, the opening half was a tale of snappish tackles and plenty of Villa time-wasting.

It seemed peculiar for Gerrard to adopt a tactic that coloured his darkest day on this very ground: the slip and sayonara to becoming a Premier League title winner – yet it did the job of ruffling Liverpool’s rhythm and reducing their offensive might.

The first 45 passed without Villa having a shot on target or inside the box, but Liverpool weren’t converting possession into high-quality chances.

Emi Martinez produced a good save to thwart an Andy Robertson header that had deflected off Matty Cash, a Sadio Mane aerial effort looped off the bar, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was close from distance, and the goalkeeper denied Salah’s low shot at the near post.

That was more or less the sum of the top final-third stuff, with a series of Liverpool penalty shouts being waved away by referee Stuart Attwell.

After the break, Martinez continued to marry time-wasting with tanking promising home attacks. He did brilliantly to turn a free Virgil van Dijk header over the bar from Robertson’s corner.

Villa were living a charmed life, somehow managing to avert danger, but they were undone when Tyrone Mings felled Salah.

Attwell finally pointed to the spot and the Egyptian found the bottom corner of Martinez’s left post to fist-pump his 21st goal of the season.

The visitors, who introduced former Liverpool forward Danny Ings, tried to flicker into offensive life but it was too late.

Some uncomfortable moments at the death – particularly when Alisson’s clearance off Joel Matip landed at the feet of the striker – were cleared without dread.

There were seven minutes on the clock when Liverpool supporters serenaded Gerrard for the first time of the afternoon. They did so after the final whistle again, but the hometown hero exited Anfield with nothing to sing about.

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