Another narrow victory on the books, and Liverpool, who through the first eight months of the season looked like probably the best team in Europe, blowing opponents out on a weekly basis, are beginning to look more and more like the side that won the league back in 2019/20, grinding out close wins after giving up sloppy goals, with tonight’s concession, where Kostas Tsimikas pushed an opponent into the back of Joël Matip, taking the centre-half out of the game as Douglas Luiz walked the ball into the back of the net one such example.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it undoubtedly constitutes a slight drop in form, and one that has come at a particularly undesirable point in the season. Nonetheless, a win is a win is a win and for now, the Reds are keeping their title hopes well alive, finding a way to win on something of an off day.
Below we look at some of the winners, losers and narratives on the night.
The King of Clutch: His contract situation — running out at the end of next season — may not have received the same amount of attention as his more illustrious team-mate Mohamed Salah, but over the past few years, when the chips are down and Liverpool have needed a goal, more often than not, Sadio Mané has been the man heeding the call.
Following on from his self-described “terrible season “ last year — his underlying numbers were all largely unchanged but a cold streak in front of goal made things look much worse than they actually were — and particularly since coming home from the African Cup of Nations, where he scored the winning penalty in the final, Sadio has been tremendous.
In the four months since returning from AfCoN, the Senegalese attacker has scored 12 and assisted two goals, and he has been a revelation in the false nine role during Roberto Firmino’s absence. His header tonight — nodded home at the end of an attack he started with a vintage reaching toe poke play — was a phenomenal effort, perfectly guided into the bottom corner to dispatch Luis Díaz’s flat, hard cross, and it capped what had been an outrageous display of hustle, intelligence and ability, constantly harrying defenders, dominating Tyrone Mings in the air throughout, and knitting play together as the Reds built their attacks.
Sadio Mané is arguably one of the most in-form players on the planet right now, looking to make it five titles for himself in less than six months, and when trophies are on the line, there are few players you’d rather have on your side.
Keeping the Race Alive: Dropping points at Villa Park tonight would have effectively ended Liverpool’s chance not only of taking the Premier League throne back, but also the hunt for an historic quadruple. Aston Villa have been tough customers for the Reds over the past few years, with late goals often being needed to pull out narrow wins, and the Villans were on it again tonight, playing a free but high-risk pressing game in the first 20 minutes, and mounting something of a charge towards the very end of the match in an attempt to rescue a point.
These Reds will rarely be denied, though, and kept pulling and prodding at the home side, continuously turning the screw until something eventually broke. Despite a number of players looking concerningly leggy throughout — and Fabinho limping off with a hamstring injury in the first half — Liverpool found a way to win against a fresh and aggressive side determined to give their home fans something to cheer about.
Jon Moss: Retiring at the end of the season, isn’t he. Not a minute too soon. The ref couldn’t be accused of being partial tonight, but the utter lack of consistency in what constituted a foul or not throughout the 90 minutes will have been massively frustrating for players on both sides.
Fabs: The Brazilian did not look his best out there tonight, struggling to turn and move his feet throughout, and it could be reasonably argued that the Reds looked better after he came off. Nonetheless, an injury to the club’s only true six is unfortunate at this point in the season, and the hope is that whatever Fabinho felt in his hamstring after half an hour wasn’t enough to keep him out for the remaining fixtures.
What Happens Next
First off, the Reds travel to London, where they will partake in the FA Cup final at Wembley, oddly placed a week before the domestic league season is over. Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea, who were defeated by Liverpool on penalties in the League Cup final back in February will be challenging, and they will do so on a day’s shorter rest, as the Blues take on Leeds at Elland Road tomorrow night.
Then, next Tuesday, it’s a trip to Southampton, who have nothing to play for but will nonetheless undoubtedly put up the sort of high-intensity back-and-forth effort that could result in anything between 2-4 and 9-0.