Aston Villa vs Liverpool: Sadio Mane goal gives title-chasing Reds another late win

Liverpool again left it late but again showed enough to get the three points

Mark Critchley
Villa Park
Saturday 02 November 2019 18:15
Klopp full of praise for 'Scouse hero' Alexander-Arnold

1. Liverpool find a way to win

There is ‘grinding out results’, then there is this. For the fifth league victory in a row, Liverpool take all three points thanks to a single goal. Again, they win the hard way, trailing for more than an hour before late goals from Andy Robertson and Sadio Mané in the 87th and 94th minutes complete a remarkable turnaround.

For long periods, it seemed as if the 27-game unbeaten run would end here. Aston Villa were superb in attack for 21 minutes up until Trezeguet’s opener then brilliant at the back, throwing their bodies on the line to protect three points which would not have been undeserved.

But for their sheer perseverance, Jürgen Klopp’s merited something too. Is this sustainable? Can they really keep this up? Either way, it is difficult not to resort to the old cliche and say this was the mark of champions.

2. Relentless Villa deserve more

It may still be too early to declare Villa safe, but any doubts over whether Dean Smith’s side would acclimatise to life in the top flight have surely been put to bed. The newly-promoted outfit began the day as the Premier League’s seventh highest-scorers and it is their attack which is making them competitive.

Villa did not create much in the way of chances after the first 20 minutes, but they did not need to. They were relentless in those early stages, hitting Liverpool in the channels, knowing their adventurous full-backs could be caught out. It was a smart, concentrated tactical ploy from Smith which came so close to earning a result.

3. VAR takes centre stage again

Once again, VAR provides a major talking point after Roberto Firmino was judged to be marginally offside on a potential Liverpool equaliser. Offside calls do not deemed to be binary decisions - either offside or not - and therefore no ‘clear and obvious’ applies.

The fact of the matter is that if Firmino was a hair’s breadth offside, he was offside. So far as we can trust the technology, we can trust the decision. The only debate to be had is whether it was sensible to implement a system which authorities admit is not 100 per cent accurate in a sport and a league where the margins are this fine.

Roberto Firmino was given offside by VAR

4. Liverpool’s defensive frailties

What exactly has happened to Liverpool’s defence? Trezequet’s breakthrough after 21 minutes meant that the title challengers have still only kept three clean sheets in all competitions, against Burnley, Sheffield United and MK Dons.

This time last year, Liverpool had only conceded five league goals and by Christmas, they were threatening to post the Premier League’s best all-time defensive record. Barely any personnel have changed but you have to go back to the pre-Van Dijk era to recall a time when Klopp’s side were this easy to score against.

5. Fabinho’s presence missed

Ahead of City’s visit to Anfield next Sunday, Klopp decided against starting Fabinho. Liverpool have never lost a league game when the holding midfielder has been named in the line-up but a yellow card here would have meant a one-game suspension.

It felt like a very un-Klopp decision - reactive rather than proactive - and the Brazilian was greatly missed. In his place came Adam Lallana, who struggled as a No 6 against an under-strength Arsenal in midweek and failed to exert control again here in the Villa-dominated opening stages.

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