Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Aston Villa 3-3 Liverpool: Talking points as Villa work hard for late point but fail to secure top-four finish

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In the closing match of the penultimate round of the season in the Premier League, Aston Villa welcomed Liverpool to Villa Park on Monday evening. The Merseysiders traveled to Birmingham with nothing left to play for but pride as they prepare to say farewell to manager Jurgen Klopp, while Villa played to secure Champions League qualification, needing to win for that to happen.

An Emiliano Martiez own-goal gave the visitors the lead after less than two minutes, and though Youri Tielemans equalized in the 12th, Liverpool went to the break ahead through Cody Gakpo who got on the scoresheet in the 23rd. When Jarell Quansah increased the visitors’ lead in the 48th minute, it there seemed to be little hope for Unai Emery and his team to get anything from the game, but a late brace from substitute Jhon Duran (85′, 88′) eventually earned them a point.

The game

The lack of pressure obviously suited Liverpool, especially early on as they pressed high and attacked from the start. Their initiative paid off straight away, with an uncharacteristic mistake by Martinez breaking the deadlock in the second minute.

It took the home side around 10 minutes to do something meaningful at the other end, and another two to get back on level terms as Watkins got the better of Quansah on the left, before setting up Tielemans for a relatively easy shot from just inside the box. Boosted by the equalizer, Villa improved their game significantly, but Liverpool struck again very soon with Martinez saving Gomez’s shot from a tight angle only for Gakpo to get an easy tap-in.

Villa really should’ve equalized again on two occasions, first in the 36th minute through Diego Carlos who mishit the ball at a yard from the gaping Liverpool goal, and then in the 43rd when Moussa Diaby wasted a very good chance.

Punishment came straight after the break in the form of a flying leap from Quansah who headed into the very top corner. Watkins believed he had pulled one back in the 52nd minute, but Leon Bailey was caught offside in the buildup. Watkins really should’ve done better two minutes later as a mistake from Alisson enabled Diaby to set him up, but the Villa striker tried to be clever and score with flick of his heel and ruined a great chance. Liverpool also had a goal disallowed soon after with Luis Diaz breaking one-on-one with Martinez and choosing to pass to his right, where Harvey Elliott and Mohamed Salah were both making their runs, but the flag went rightly up.

Diaby hit the outside of the net and substitute Nicolo Zaniolo forced a great save from Alisson, and Trent Alexander-Arnold rattled Martinez at the other end from outside the box, before Villa finally reduced the gap. A poor pass from Van Dijk and even poorer control from Mac Allister allowed Calum Chambers to win the ball high up, and Jhon Duran, who had come on to replace unluckily injured Zaniolo just three minutes before, blasted it into the bottom corner.

The goal obviously meant Villa now stood a real chance of getting something from this game, eventually a fine run and a fine pass from Diaby prompted a bit of deserved luck for Duran as the ball glanced off his knee to fly over Alisson and into the net.

But the home supporters will be looking at Diaby’s chance in the 92nd minute, when Alisson made arguably the best save of the lot to deny the Villa winger and prevent what would’ve been a truly remarkable turnaround.

Martinez and Alisson – mixed performances between the posts

Both these teams have top goalkeepers in their ranks. Martinez and Alisson certainly proved their class with some stunning saves, but both had some shaky moments as well.

Martinez’s mistake for the opening goal can only be described as shocking, something nobody would’ve expected from Argentina’s World Cup winner. Alisson, for his part, had a few nervous moments with the ball at his feet, and it should be said that the Brazil international doesn’t seem nearly as good at that particular segment lately as he did for a large part of his career.

Nonetheless, at the age of 31 each, Alisson and Martinez obviously have a number of good goalkeeping years ahead, and despite the occasional blunder, their vast quality should by no means be underestimated.

Villa attackers lack communication

Ollie Watkins, Moussa Diaby and Leon Bailey are all fine attackers, and they usually work very well together, but today that mostly wasn’t the case and even though Villa eventually scored three goals, they could’ve scored more had the trio communicated better.

Things even got a little heated between Watkins and Bailey following Watkins’s disallowed goal, with the striker adamant Bailey shouldn’t have interfered as Diaby, who was nowhere near offside, made his run on the same side. Had it been Diaby who picked up the ball and squared it to Watkins, the goal would’ve stood.

That was the most obvious example of the problem, but there were other situations when the home team’s front line didn’t seem coordinated well enough to take advantage of considerable space deep in Liverpool’s half. Emery will surely want them to work on that in training over the next week and see if they can make things better ahead of the final round.

The aftermath

Speaking of the final round, Villa travel to London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, and the task of getting a satisfactory result there will not be an easy one. The Eagles won five and drew one of their last six games, beating Liverpool and Newcastle in the process, while absolutely destroying West Ham and Manchester United. On Saturday they triumphed away to Wolves, and only Fulham managed to earn a point against Oliver Glasner’s team.

Still, Villa’s problems could be solved completely on Tuesday. At the moment, they sit in fourth place with a five-point advantage over Tottenham Hotspur. Though Spurs have a game in hand, they play that game against Manchester City, who must win to get ahead of Arsenal at the top of the table and stay in control of the title race. And if they do, Villa’s place in next season’s Champions League will be confirmed.

As for Liverpool, it’s all about Jurgen Klopp and his final match at Anfield, and his final match at the club, when the Reds welcome Wolves on Sunday. Even without competitive relevance, the mere fact that it’s Klopp’s last one and in front of their home supporters will surely provide motivation for the players wearing the shirt of the six-time European champions.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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