Saturday was a very emotional afternoon at Anfield. Steven Gerrard, the man who spent most of his playing career as Liverpool captain and remains an icon of the club, has returned to the place of his great successes as an opposition manager, leading Aston Villa against his beloved Reds in the 16th round of the Premier League campaign.
The match was decided by the perfect execution of a penalty won by Mohamed Salah.
During his first press conference as Villa manager, Gerrard would be questioned about his affiliations with Liverpool and the prospect of sitting one day on the Anfield bench. However, he understandably declined to discuss the matter, believing it would be disrespectful to his new employers to do so.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, on the other hand, spoke about Gerrard in his press conference ahead of this game, despite jokingly saying at the beginning that he would not answer any questions on the subject.
“Wonderful story,” he said. “Stevie will probably have no idea how he will feel when he enters the stadium. I had it similarly the first time at Mainz and Dortmund with LFC. I’ve never heard a bad word about Steven Gerrard. “
It must have been an exciting time for Gerrard to go out and hear “You’ll Never Walk Alone” sung in that stadium before a Premier League match. Anfield certainly knew how to welcome its hero, and Gerrard’s song, sung many times between 1998 and 2015, once again resounded in the stadium.
The approach to the Villa
As expected, Gerrard was fully able to put his feelings towards Liverpool aside for more than 90 minutes, once the opening whistle was blown. Faced with one of the best teams in England, and indeed, in Europe, his players knew they had hard work to do to wrest anything from the competition. They fought hard, some more than others, it must be said.
John McGinn distinguished himself with the ferocity of his duels and determination to beat, beat en masse or outsmart any Liverpool player who stood in his way. The same can be said of striker Ollie Watkins on one side of the pitch and center-back Tyrone Mings on the other, although the latter committed the foul that led Liverpool to win the game. Goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez also did very well to parry several difficult shots and frustrate the home players hard.
Deserved victory for Liverpool
However, the difference in quality between the two teams was evident to everyone. As Klopp himself later pointed out, his team completely dominated the game for around 75 minutes and created a series of chances that ended with a target error, a brilliant block by one of the Villa’s defenders or a parry. top notch from Martinez.
If there was one aspect where Villa looked better than Liverpool, it was the goalkeeper. Martinez really did very well in everything, while Alisson Becker on the other side will want to forget this match as soon as possible. In fact, the only situations in which guests seemed to be able to score were the result of his mistakes. Fortunately for him, the Villa players involved in those moments were unable to make them count.
Liverpool held the ball 63% of the time, making a total of 20 shots, against Villa’s four, none of which went on target. With just one goal, the game could have ended differently, sure, but in the end the result mirrored the match well.
The standards severely dropped in Premier League refereeing
As bad as Alisson performed in this match, the worst man out there by a mile was the referee. It was a very significant sign three years ago when FIFA didn’t name a single World Cup match to an English official, and the time that has passed since then will have done little to improve their reputation. In this match, Stuart Atwell has perfectly integrated into the general malaise that apparently plagues the Premier League.
Both sides will have had their own complaints about it, not least Gerrard who quickly noted that Liverpool received “their penalty” while his team did not. There was actually a moment, at the end of the second half, where Atwell could have gotten a closer look at a clash between Alisson and former Liverpool player Danny Ings, although there didn’t seem to be much. Gerrard also called Liverpool’s penalty “soft”, but he is simply wrong about that. Mings first pulled Salah back and then hit him from behind as the Egyptian passed him inside the box. Even the look on Migs face when the whistle rang was one of guilt and resignation to the decision made. He knew it would not be overturned.
No. Calls within the two boxes were likely given correctly, although some on the Liverpool side will indicate that Sadio Mane was also shot down by the already booked Marvelous Nakamba. But as with Ings, there didn’t seem to be much. However, Atwell made a number of glaring mistakes in other areas of the pitch, from start to finish. He also failed to enforce adequate play control that a referee of this level needs to be able to do his job well.
It is to be hoped that the problem of poor refereeing will be adequately addressed at some point, as it severely damages the overall impression of the arguably most competitive league in the world.
The race is raging
With Sunday’s games still to be played, this defeat left Aston Villa in 12th place with 19 points from 16 games. It is worth mentioning that they recently went through a five-loss slump, which ultimately resulted in Gerrard replacing Dean Smith on the bench.
But since the former Liverpool captain took the lead, things have improved dramatically and they shouldn’t sweat too much over the defeat at Anfield. They will have a good chance of improving their ranking very soon, facing the threatened relegation duo of Norwich City and Burnley next week.
As for Liverpool, the title race remains as fierce and tight as before. Manchester City are still leading the table with 38 points after beating Wolverhampton Wanderers at Etihad, the Reds are second with 37, while Champions League holders Chelsea remain behind with 36 after the 3-2 triumph. on Leeds United. Oddly enough, all three contenders have won their respective games thanks to goals that came from the spot.
– – (@snappedlfc) December 12, 2021