Liverpool failed to continue their winning streak on Saturday with a 1-1 draw against Aston Villa at Anfield in a match of significance for Liverpool on several levels.
It was also a match in which the home side didn’t have their manager in the dugout as Jurgen Klopp served a suspension for comments he made about referee Paul Tierney after his side’s victory over Tottenham Hotspur a few weeks ago.
Jacob Ramsey broke the deadlock to give the visitors the lead in the 27th minute, while Roberto Firmino came off the bench in the second half to equalize in the 89th minute.
Liverpool struggled to score first in the first 15 minutes, but after fending off their offensive with hard work and determination, Aston Villa gradually leveled the playing field.
Just over 20 minutes later, Ollie Watkins charged into Liverpool’s box, where he was caught by a late tackle by Ibrahima Konate. Referee John Brooks had no doubts as he blew the whistle, pointed to the dot and penalized the Liverpool defender. However, Watkins hit a low from 12 yards from the post.
However, Liverpool’s inability to maintain some control of the game ended up costing them dearly. Literally five minutes later, Douglas Louis shot from the right to the far post and found Ramsey lurking there. The young winger retained his composure and dribbled past Alisson Becker to silence the fans and destroy their hope of seeing the Reds in the Champions League next season.
Clearly shaken by the goal, it was hard for Liverpool not to concede another one and Alisson needed to be on top not to let that happen.
In the second half, the Merseysiders finally pulled themselves together, took possession of the ball and pushed the guests aside. But that wasn’t enough – there was no idea how to break Villa’s low block when the ball reached the barrier 25 meters from Emiliano Martinez. Mohamed Salah was pale, Luis Diaz tried his best, but was constantly outnumbered. Trent Alexander-Arnold, who often went into midfield, did not find the right channels to interact with the players ahead of him. Cody Gakpo looked frustrated by the fact that he was unable to pull anyone from the opponent’s backline out of position. Villa boss Unai Emery has clearly trained his team well.
But Liverpool gradually built up the pressure and in the 55th minute, Gakpo put the ball into the net from close range and saw that Virgil van Dijk, allegedly operating from offside, did not let him through.
Diogo Jota replaced Curtis Jones just after the countdown, meaning that Klopp’s side (led by assistant boss Pep Leinders) now had four strikers on the pitch. Nine minutes later, Anfield erupted in song as Firmino came on to replace Diaz and James Milner came on to take the captain’s armband from Jordan Henderson.
Milner’s presence, despite his 37-year-old age, was immediately evident. The veteran, who also played for Aston Villa throughout his long career, won duels wherever he went, not only allowing his team to move forward and attack in waves, but boosting their confidence. But, in the end, it was Roberto Firmino who saved his team from the clutches of defeat.
With just over a minute out of 90 left in the game, Salah finally sent a useful ball to the six-yard edge, where Firmino got the better of Tyrone Mings and Martinez and sent it into the net.
Due to the high number of stoppages, stoppage time at the end of the second half was 10 minutes and Villa were forced to hold on for their lives during this period, but they held on and gave Birmingham back a well-deserved point.
Virtually no Premier League game goes by without a decision (or decisions) from officials being questioned, and the biggest problem at the moment is that claims of their incompetence are most often grounded in reality. But let’s take it from above.
There were three potentially controversial calls in this match, and all three went to Villa. However, one of them was undoubtedly correct. The other two require serious discussion.
There is no need to talk about a penalty – Konate was really late, and there was an obvious contact, because of which Watkins lost his balance and fell. Brooks got this spot even without VAR. Most English judges probably wouldn’t do that.
The first point to be clarified came near the end of the first half, when Tyrone Mings lifted his leg very high and slammed the spikes into Gakpo’s chest. Brooks, of course, fouled and penalized the Aston Villa defender. VAR checked to see if there was a reason to send Mings off and decided there was not, without having to send Brooks to the fieldside screen.
One can only assume that the decision was based on the fact that Mings first received the ball and then hit the Gakpo. However, it is difficult to refute the notion that the England international, while playing the ball, deliberately held his foot above what was necessary or natural in order to hit the Liverpool striker.
There will always be so-called “grey areas” with such challenges, and officials are usually reluctant to send players off before half time. Was the decision correct? Perhaps, but perhaps not. Obviously, the referee should have been sent to the screen and decide for himself whether the call deserved a red card or not.
However, VAR had no problem sending Brooks to the screen to check Gakpo’s goal in the 55th minute for a suspected offside that was not seen by either the referee or the linesman. A long pass from the right flank to the far post, played by Alexander-Arnold, was beaten back by Diaz’s head. He hit Ezri Konsu and rebounded to Van Dijk, who indeed was closer to Martinez’s net than any Villa player. But it got to the point where the Dutchman left the Villa player, so what’s the problem? Where is offside?
The rules of the game state that such situations are still considered offside if the defender did not mean to play the ball. So the big question was, was Konsa going to play ball? This time, VAR decided not to call, but to let Brooks see it for himself. And again it came to the moment of the “gray zone”.
After looking at the footage, Brooks decided that Konsa did NOT want to play ball, which meant that Van Dijk was offside in his opinion.
Looking at the situation from several angles, it is difficult to agree with Brooks. Konsa’s left leg did not appear to be in its natural position when contact was made with the ball. It looked like he fully intended to do what he did – stretch his leg out to the side to keep Diaz from hitting his head so he wouldn’t run into another red jersey six yards from Martinez’s net.
Again, this is a situation that can only be resolved based on subjective judgment, and Brooks cannot be blamed for seeing it his way. That’s what he’s there for.
The match was to be the last at Anfield for the four Liverpool players whose departure from the club at the end of the season has been confirmed. As expected, only two of them actually played in it, both of them from the bench.
The whole day was certainly an emotional test for Milner and Firmino. Both joined Liverpool in 2015, Milner as a free agent from Manchester City and Firmino from Hoffenheim as an in-demand player with links to several other top clubs.
These two players have played a huge role in everything that Liverpool did under Klopp. Milner played in at least six positions for Liverpool, doing his best in each one, doing everything the manager asked, as he was instructed, always reliable, whether it was a substitute captain taking a penalty kick or a spot kick. a tough fighter on the field or even a ball-scorer. The 37-year-old has reportedly agreed to join Brighton & Hove Albion for the 2023/24 season.
Many agree that the heights achieved by Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane (now a Bayern Munich player) would not have been possible without Firmino’s dedication. The Brazilian has long been the link between the two wingers and has always worked tirelessly to create space for them to attack. For some time it was synonymous with the “false nine role”.
Moreover, both Firmino and Milner adored Anfield fans. For the fans, they are heroes, and their names are forever inscribed in the history of the club.
The 2019 Champions League, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup, 2019/20 Premier League title, 2021/22 League Cup and FA Cup are the trophies Firmino and Milner have won together at Liverpool. There have also been some close matches – the 2016 Europa League, the 2018 and 2022 Champions League, the 2018/19 and 2021/22 Premier League – in all of these campaigns, their team finished second.
Both Milner and Firmino are likely to play another game in the red against Liverpool against already relegated Southampton at St Mary’s next week, on the last match day of the Premier League season.
Also leaving the club are Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Mainly due to their horrendous injuries, it cannot be said that they were involved in Liverpool’s success in much the same way as Milner or Firmino. Oxlade-Chamberlain had a great first season at the club, coming into the gap beautifully when Philippe Coutinho left for Barcelona in January 2018, but it ended in agony as he suffered a long-term knee injury in the Champions League semi-final against Roma. this year. Since then, he has never been the same.
As for Keita, his injuries have been so frequent and usually accompanied by long spells of poor form that Klopp’s team won’t feel too strongly about his departure, at least not from a football standpoint.
All four players will leave Anfield as free agents, and while Milner’s destination is widely known, it’s not about Firmino, Oxlade-Chamberlain or Keith.
With a point deducted from Anfield, Aston Villa are seventh with 58 points so far, one more than Tottenham Hotspur in eighth and two more than Brentford in ninth. A win in the last round would obviously have given Emery’s team a season in Europe. The only problem is that the opponents in this last round are Brighton, who have three points more and a game in hand, and they also want to get points for themselves. It will be a tough fight for both sides that can be won.
As for Liverpool, the race for the top four is almost over. Manchester United and Newcastle need points to make them mathematically out of reach for Liverpool and they both have a game in hand. On Monday night the Magpies will play Leicester City at home, and on Wednesday the Red Devils will host Chelsea – it is likely that this will all be over. If that’s any consolation for Liverpool after their disappointing season, then at least their Europa League place can’t be lost, and that’s probably all they deserve.
Anfield is undergoing a facelift this summer and it remains to be seen which direction they will take them.