Liverpool 2 - 0 Aston Villa
Liverpool: Mané 71’, Jones 89’
Liverpool won the league. For the first time in three decades. It was kind of a big deal and everybody was happy. Then Liverpool suffered a post-winning-the-league-for-the-first-time-in-three-decades hangover. Which probably wasn’t the most surprising thing ever.
Which took us to today and a chance for the Reds to show they’re still focused on setting an all time points record in the English top flight against a side deep in the relegation zone—or to show instead that, having won the league, they’ve maybe mentally checked out for the season. In the end, what we got seemed closer to the latter, even if in the end the Reds came away with all three points.
With Divock Origi given a chance to start at striker and a rarely seen midfield trio of Fabinho, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Naby Keïta, manager Jürgen Klopp sent out a changed but still very strong lineup that gave a number of players a chance to impress. In the early going, though, it was a fairly quiet affair, with the Reds holding much of the possession in the opening minutes but failing to create a great deal.
Aston Villa, on the other hand, looked set up from the start to limit the damage—to perhaps, in a best case scenario, earn a draw and valuable point and failing that to at least avoid taking too big a hit to their goal differential. And it’s fair to say that the visitors from Birmingham, and manager Dean Smith in particular, would have been happier than Jürgen Klopp as Liverpool seemed to struggle to get into gear.
Particularly disappointing was the more advanced midfielders, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Keïta, and Origi up front—all had a chance to perhaps stake a claim to a larger role for next season, and as a central attacking trio they were perhaps the most disappointing and least involved players on the pitch for the Reds.
Following one of the most somnambulant halves of football seen from the Reds in recent memory, those watching will have been hoping for a few changes at the half—but manager Jürgen Klopp stuck with his starting eleven, giving them a chance to turn things around and perhaps show a little more passion than they’d managed in the opening 45. By the hour mark, though, the flow of the game hadn’t much changed.
Klopp responded by bringing on Firmino, Wijnaldum, and Henderson for Origi, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Fabinho. The result was Liverpool pushing higher into the Villa end and with a little more control—but still not creating anything of note. Not until the 71st minute, at least, when Trent Alexander-Arnold wandered into midfield and drilled a low pass to to Keïta on the left of the Villa penalty area. Keïta squared to Mané, who sliced it top shelf with his left.
Liverpool didn’t entirely deserve the goal on the run of play—you probably couldn’t say either team really deserved one. In that one moment, though, the Reds’ superior attacking talent shone through and proved the difference, and that talent would again shine though in the 89th minute with young Curtis Jones scoring his first Premier League goal for the club on a well-spotted Salah nod-down from a Robertson cross.
You couldn’t accuse Liverpool of playing particularly well—or of seeming to respond positively to their mid-week loss to Man City. In the end, though, their title-winning talent was just enough to see them past a side that looks increasingly likely to be relegated.