In the lead up to Liverpool’s matchup with Aston Villa at Anfield yesterday, the pre-match buzz was focused entirely on one man: Steven Gerrard.
It was the first time the Liverpool legend was returning to his old stomping grounds as an opposing manager, and supporters and media were understandably talking about almost nothing else. For the Liverpool players though, the outside noise was largely ignored as they focused simply on picking up three points.
“For us, as players, I don’t think it changed anything for us,” said right-back Trent Alexander Arnold when asked by Michael Owen if the return of Gerrard made it difficult to focus in the run-up to the match.
“I think for fans it might have been sentimental for them, even for him [Gerrard] potentially.”
The squad, however, is in a tight three-way battle with Chelsea and Manchester City for the Premier League title, and they know there’s no room for sentimentality. They weren’t worried about the narrative.
“You know, we’ve been in this game a long time, we’re all professionals. We have a job to do. Essentially the three points are more important than any of our feelings so that comes first. The team comes first,” said the Scouse defender.
“We were focused on getting the three points, to be honest. That never changed. We never really spoke about it [Gerrard], we never focused on it at all.”
“I think in the back of our minds we all knew he was going to get a good reception but it didn’t change anything for us.”
That mentality was important as breaking down Gerrard’s side prove to be a tough task. Aston Villa presented a stout, organized defensive front that frustrated the Liverpool attack at times. The difference ended up being a Mohamed Salah penalty kick in the second half. After converting the PK, Liverpool were able to hang on without much fuss to see out the 1-0 victory.