Liverpool’s Champions League qualification hopes received a huge boost after a late 2-1 victory over Aston Villa at Anfield.
The Reds trailed 1-0 to an Ollie Watkins goal at halftime, but rallied through a Mohamed Salah goal, and then, with time running out, Alexander Arnold sealed the three points with time running out with a beautiful strike.
More VAR controversy ensued when Roberto Firmino’s perfectly legitimate goal was chalked off when Diogo Jota was adjudged as offside in the buildup. Nevertheless, the hosts showed mental resolve to turn the game around and win their first home game in six fixtures.
Liverpool started the game with a vigour that has been absent in recent home games and they looked to apply with pace and ambition early on.
This approach should have lead to a goal early when Jota’s pass was allowed to slip through the attention of Tyrone Mings and found its way through to Salah. With only Emi Martinez to beat, the Egyptian miscued his finish and dragged the ball wide when he ought to have scored.
Looking enterprising, with Fabinho providing the platform for others to bomb forward, the Reds continued to probe but their efforts were undone by a raft of poor touches when the ball approached the box with all three of Salah, Jota and Firmino — who, to his credit, was largely good — guilty.
Villa were largely second best, but through Watkins, Bertrand Traore and Trezeguet they had pace on the counter and it was through this method that they took the lead against the run of play.
A long ball wasn’t adequately cleared by Liverpool and Watkins drove a low strike at Alisson and into the net. The Brazilian really should have saved the effort, given it was straight at him, but the away team took the lead.
The Reds looked to make amends immediately and they thought they had an equalizer for Alexander Arnold’s long ball released Jota and the Portuguese’s cross acted like a hot potato in the box before falling to Firmino, whose shot hit the roof of the net. VAR ruled the goal out — mystifyingly — and the home team went into the break trailing.
Liverpool started the second half with an authority and they had their rewards twelve minutes after the interval. Robertson and Jota combined well down the left flank and the Scot skipped past the impressive Esri Konsa and fired a shot at Martinez. The Argentinian could only parry the effort into the path of Salah and the number 11 headed into an empty net.
Villa, to their credit, went in search of a winner and made an attacking change when they withdrew Marvelous Nakamba — a defensive midfielder — for Ross Barkley, a player with attacking intent. Their bravery almost paid dividends when Trezequet sublimely bent an outside of the foot shot off the post with Alisson beaten all ends up.
Jurgen Klopp was also proactive with his changes and changed shape when he brought Thiago on for the ineffectual Georginio Wijnaldum and Xherdan Shaqiri on for Ozan Kabak with Fabinho dropping to centre half.
With a greater balance in their 4231 shape, Liverpool went hell for leather in search of a goal and their persistence eventually paid off. Shaqiri’s wonderful cross was met by Thiago and the Spaniard’s shot was brilliantly saved by Martinez. The Reds retrieved the rebound and worked the ball to the left hand side, where Alexander Arnold was stationed after taking a corner. Taking the ball, the academy graduate beautifully whipped a shot past into the right hand corner. It was a moment that could be huge in the context of the season.
Birthday boy Sadio Mane was also introduced and he should have sealed the three points when Shaqiri’s through ball sent him racing through on goal, but his shot was weak and he should have squared to Jota for number three. It didn’t matte in the end, though, and the hosts held on.
Liverpool: Alisson; Alexander Arnold, Phillips, Kabak, Robertson; Fabinho, Milner, Wijnaldum; Jota, Firmino, Salah.
Replacements: Mane for Firmino, Thiago for Wijnaldum, Shaqiri for Kabak.
Subs not used: Adrian, Davies, Tsimikas, Williams, Keita, Oxlade Chamberlain