Liverpool continued their 100% winning streak in the Premier League this season with a hard fought 2-0 win over Aston Villa at Anfield.
Goals from Sadio Mane and Curtis Jones gave the Reds a perhaps flattering win after a stodgy performance against their relegation-threatened visitors.
After their drubbing at Manchester City, there was an expectation of a backlash but the Reds’ performance was the antithesis of that.
Slow, plodding — littered with poor touches and worse passes — and playing a tempo far removed from their usual intense style, the hosts only managed their first shot on goal in the 33rd minute, Mohamed Salah meekly firing at ex-Red Pepe Reina.
The Villains, meanwhile, had the most substantive shot at goal, with Douglas Luis firing straight at Alisson.
Liverpool had two penalty appeals, one for a clear foul on Salah and another from a handball, but their lax showing didn’t merit a lead and they went into the interval — surely to be on the end of a verbal volley from Jurgen Klopp — level, only managing one shot at goal against the leagues worst defence.
The second half began in a similarly lethargic fashion and Villa, through two counter attacks, worked Alisson twice in the opening five minutes; first through Grealish and then via Anwar El Ghazi.
In no way impressed by proceedings, Klopp elected for triple change on the hour mark. Georginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino entered the fray for the ineffective Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Divock Origi and Fabinho, who was the Reds best player until that point.
Finally, on the 70th minute mark, the Reds knitted together a move of any incision and it yielded a goal. Trent Alexander Arnold fed Naby Keita on the left of the box and the Guinean found Mané whose left footed shot found the net via the underside of the bar.
Emboldened by their goal, Liverpool pushed on and Firmino — after a one-two with Salah — worked Reina with a good strike, but the Spaniard denied the Reds’ number 9 his first Premier League home goal in 16 games.
Jones, who only yesterday signed a fresh deal at the club, replaced Keita with five minutes remaining, with the young Scouser requiring three more appearances to qualify for a medal. Jones immediately tried his luck from distance, but his attempt fly high and wide.
The academy graduate didn’t have to wait long for his goal, however, as he calmly volleyed home a Salah header. Robertson’s cross found the Egyptian and he cushioned a header into Jones’ path and the 19 year old dispatched his low volley with aplomb.
The Reds almost lost their clean sheet at the death, but Alisson — ever vigilant — pushed Grealish’s low shot away from goal with a marvellous save.
Another medal chaser, Neco Williams, was substituted on for Robertson in added time as the Reds held on for an ugly win, but one that could prove valuable in the pursuit of records.