Liverpool suffered their first loss of their Premier League title defence as they were torn apart by Aston Villa in a 7-2 defeat at Villa.
Two goals from Mohamed Salah were the Reds’ only riposte to an avalanche of goals — including a hattrick from Ollie Watkins — from the home side who ruthlessly exploited the visitors poorly orchestrated high-line time and time again.
Jurgen Klopp confirmed before the game that Alisson Becker’s shoulder injury would keep him out for six weeks and the Brazilian’s understudy, Adrian, was selected to start the game.
From the offset, the Spaniard spread a nervousness throughout the defence and he made a mistake early on which saw Villa take the lead. A poor pass to Joe Gomez inside his own box fell to the feet of Jack Grealish and the England international found Watkins who finished an easy chance to open the scoring.
With a lack of pressing in midfield and the defensive line suicidally high, Liverpool looked vulnerable every time the hosts attacked. Watkins, latching onto a long pass and cutting in from the left flank, doubled the Villains lead as he smashed a shot into the top right corner past Adrian.
Perhaps the only positive the Reds can take was that, at times, they looked threatening going forward. After good work from Diogo Jota, Salah — the only player who could come away with any semblance of pride in his own performance — accurately drilled a left-footed shot past Emiliano Martinez to open the Champions’ account.
The Egyptian ought to have had a penalty, too, with Martin Atkinson inexplicably missing a clear foul in the box, but another goal would have been scantly deserved for the visitors.
The goal didn’t spook Villa or inspire the visitors and Dean Smith’s men had two more goals before the interval. The first, from John McGinn — in a fortuitous manner that would become a recurring theme for the hosts — took a huge deflection and flew past an unsighted and wrong-footed Adrian.
Then, after springing Liverpool’s high-line from a set-piece, Watkins completed his hattrick by tapping into an empty net from a well-worked set-piece routine.
The half-time scoreline was a scarcely believable 4-1 to Aston Villa.
The second half began in a similar fashion for the beleaguered Reds and Ross Barkley — a recent arrival on loan from Chelsea — made it 5-1 with another long-range, deflected shot. Liverpool’s showing was wretched enough and Villa’s performance was sufficiently sharp, but when you’re on the receiving end of massive misfortune — not once, not twice, but thrice — you know it won’t be your day.
Salah added another consolation goal when — after receiving a through ball from Roberto Firmino, the Brazilians sole positive contribution in an awful individual showing — he finished into the bottom right corner with aplomb from just outside the box.
Once again, Villa — who poured forward at every opportunity, smelling blood and sensing Liverpool’s glaring weaknesses — reacted well to the concession of a goal and they added two more before the final whistle.
Grealish scored the first of his brace when a speculative hit from the outside the box was totally redirected by a deflection off Fabinho and cruelly trickled over the line and past Adrian for the host’s sixth goal.
The traveling Reds — who looked lethargic and shellshocked — were fortunate not to concede more with Adrian saving a one versus one from Grealish after the midfielder was sent through on goal — once again exploiting a lax defensive line — by a through ball. Watkins, coming close to his fourth goal, also hit the bar when he ought to have scored from a cross that found him unmarked in the box.
The final nail in the coffin arrived with 15 minutes remaining. Grealish, the source through which all Villa’s moves flowed, trapped a long ball over the top and ran through on goal before clipping over Adrian to take the score to 6-1.
Liverpool team: Adrian; Alexander Arnold, Gomez, van Dijk, Robertson; Fabinho, Wijnaldum, Keita; Salah, Firmino, Jota.
Replacements: Minamino for Keita, Milner for Firmino, Jones for Gomez