Patience is key for Mane as Liverpool eventually find spark at Aston Villa

Worthy champions by some distance and for some time, but Liverpool were only just worthy winners against an Aston Villa side fighting for a lifeline in the relegation zone. Only a win would lift Villa out of the bottom three while Liverpool at proudly 20 points clear at the top of the table.
Patience is key for Mane as Liverpool eventually find spark at Aston Villa

Liverpool 2

Aston Villa 0

Worthy champions by some distance and for some time, but Liverpool were only just worthy winners against an Aston Villa side fighting for a lifeline in the relegation zone. Only a win would lift Villa out of the bottom three while Liverpool at proudly 20 points clear at the top of the table.

Liverpool were as good as Premier League winners before football went into lockdown, but their midweek defeat at Manchester City looked like being followed by another awkward result. That is until a late change of tactics from manager Jurgen Klopp and even later goals from Sadio Mane and latest local hero Curtis Jones.

Mane, speaking after scoring his 50th Anfield goal, conceded: “It was not easy but I think overall we deserved the three points. You can't always win by four or five goals at home and sometimes have to be patient.”

Manchester City's four-goal hammering of Liverpool in midweek was said by some to be a marker for their title battle next season, but it would be more accurate to use it of an indication just how good Klopp's team has been this season. If they can be 20 points ahead of a still outstanding City having just been annihilated by them it shows how brilliant Liverpool have been over the course of the season.

But despite having the title and all the ensuing plaudits in the bag, this match clearly meant a lot to Klopp. He made three changes to his starting line-up in a bid to inject more energy into areas he felt his team lacked at City and extend an unbeaten home league run to 57 matches. He knew victory would make it 24 in a row this season and no side has won every match at home in the Premier League era.

That incentive is clearly not as great as Premier League survival, however, and Dean Smith's Villa side were often the more impressive. Smith, like Klopp, had made changes with five new men starting, including former Liverpool favourite goalkeeper Pepe Reina.

They knew only three points would lift them out of the relegation zone and they tried to butter up their seemingly invincible opponents by lining up to welcome them on to the pitch with a guard of honour.

The stadium, as it had 12 days previously for the visit of Crystal Palace, looked impressive with its mixture of flags and banners covering the seats, with the Kop particularly spectacular. The only obvious difference was a long red and white banner stating 'Liverpool FC – Champions Again.'

Then, after a period of applause to mark the 72nd anniversary of the NHS and taking a knee in support of Black Lives, the match started in an even more predictable fashion in a beautifully summery Merseyside later afternoon sunshine.

Liverpool tried to move the ball around and Villa had a resolute bank of five men in midfield with a resolute looking back four behind them. Smith's men were here to defend with all their might and hope to make the most of any opportunities to break forward.

Set pieces were naturally key to Villa's tactics too and that was no more obvious than midway through the first half when when Ezri Konsa header over from a well taken Jack Grealish free-kick. The opportunity forced after brilliant touchlines skills from Anwar El Ghazi and panicked Andy Robertson into a rash yellow card tackle.

There was more zip about Liverpool after the break and Villa showed more ambition too, with Grealish and El Ghazi forcing half decent saves out of Allison in quick succession.

An hour had past and Villa still had not allowed Liverpool a clear goalscoring opportunity, despite conceding the vast majority of possession. The reason was a mixture of Liverpool lacking their usual pace and creativity and Villa's drive combined with dedicated discipline. Klopp reacted by making a triple substitution, sending on Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino for Origi, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabinho.

Villa still looked comfortable as he spoke to his players during the second drinks break, so imagine his disappointment when Liverpool scored almost immediately from the restart and only 19 minutes to go.

Alexander-Arnold found Naby Keita just inside the area and he pinged a ball into Mane, who side-footed in a right foot shot off the under side of Reina's cross bar.

Villa had no chance of coming back after teenager Jones came on with five minutes to go and celebrated signing a five-year contract at the end of the week by scoring his first Premier League goal after being set up by Mo Salah after he had started the move himself.

Liverpool: Alisson 7, Alexander-Arnold 7, Gomez 6, van Dijk 6, Robertson 6 (Williams 90), Oxlade-Chamberlain 5 (Wijnaldum 61), Fabinho 5 (Henderson 61), Keita 6 (Jones 85), Salah 6, Origi 5 (Firmino 60), Mane. Subs: Adrian, Minamino, Shaqiri, Elliott.

Aston Villa: Reina 7, Konsa 6, Hause 6, Mings 7, Taylor 6, McGinn 7, Douglas Luiz 6, Grealish 7, El Ghazi 6 (Jota 74), Davis 6 (Samatta 74), Trezeguet 5 (Vassilev 85). Subs: Nyland, Lansbury, Nakamba, Hourihane, Guilbert, Elmohamady.

Ref: Paul Tierney 6

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