There’s a lot to unpack after that one.
After that performance the large majority of Villa fans will place themselves in one of two camps. The optimistic B6 natives will take a positive stance and argue the fact that our opposition had won all twenty four of their home games this season and it’s harsh to claim this is a game we should’ve taken points from.
They might also mention the fact that Liverpool are the second highest scoring team in the league and as the worst defence in the league we managed to maintain a respectable 2-0.
The other camp consists of some more cautious fans. Making sure we all remember the fact that Liverpool aren’t unbeatable. Relegation rivals Watford proved that. They’re a team that looked lacklustre for the large majority of the game, we failed to convert the few threatening chances we had and not to mention the overwhelming lack of possession… Again.
So that puts me in no mans land.
Do I think that we deserved to beat the Premier League champions? Despite what I may have told you if you asked me at half time, no. However, do I think that we deserved to lose? No, and if you had told me before the game that I’d be saying that afterwards I would’ve called you a liar. It’s important to take our current circumstance into account when breaking down this defeat so I’m going to do my best to be as realistic as possible.
One immediate positive to take from this game is how surprisingly well Neil Taylor did against some world class attackers. I’ll be the first to say I panicked when Targett consulted his playbook and got injured when he realised he was coming up against some great wingers in the near future at Wolves, but Neil Taylor really has surprised me. By no means am I saying he’s yet to release Salah and Mane from his pocket. But for a fullback that the majority of the fanbase (myself included) has doubted, he’s put in a real shift and I feel slightly more secure than I did with him at the back before.
Mings was also outstanding today, fighting through an injury that clearly bothered him. He won constant aerial duels and did a great job clearing our lines for the most part. Granted it wasn’t a clean sheet but Tyrone’s contributions cannot be overlooked, I dread to think how we’d have handled that Liverpool side without him dictating the defence.
I’d also like to note that John McGinn looked more energetic than ever today, not his best performance in a Villa shirt but as a natural big game player he put in a powerhouse effort that deserves recognition even if there was no final product for him today. Pepe Reina’s return to Anfield was also brilliant, vastly outclassing Nyland in the competition for his place in the starting XI. His handling and distribution was absolutely pivotal in making the most of our possession and he was a rock when it did begin to get scrappy to the back.
Like I said before, let’s be realistic.
Let’s talk about the substitution issue. Maybe I’m reaching and I’ll be the first to admit I reach a lot when it comes to talking about Villa but I think Liverpool’s substitutions were tactical but not in the way you might think. Dean Smith has been the first to admit he thinks that the 5 substitution rule puts the top six teams at an advantage and I genuinely believe that’s why Klopp made three substitutions in one go. And at sixty minutes, Firmino, Henderson and Wijnaldum all took to the field and that stroke of genius from Klopp may well have been the start of the end for the positives of that game. We lost the game there and then.
We struggled to compete with a brilliantly drilled Liverpool midfield and an already injured Jack Grealish had no support on the break thereafter out of fear for being counter attacked ourselves. El Ghazi had seemed up for the game today, he’s what can only be described as a ‘some big games’ player. So seeing Anwar leave the pitch took all the sting out of our attacks barring one neatly saved consolation shot from Grealish once we’d already conceded two.
It doesn’t take a footballing genius to know that an out of position Ezri Konsa vs Sadio Mane is a mismatch and that was ultimately our downfall when the Senegalese winger scored off the woodwork and opened the floodgates. Once we’d conceded one goal the unfortunate truth was that the game was over. Our habit of rarely making a comeback in the league reoccurred and the claret and blue heads dropped. A first league goal for Curtis Jones earned his revenge for the 5-0 loss against us in the cup earlier in the year and that was the final nail in the coffin.
2-0 loss away at Liverpool. Doesn’t sound explicitly good to me but it doesn’t sound too bad either. Points mean everything and we once again haven’t picked one up, but that’s the game we were all dreading. If that is the worst it’ll get, if that’s the champions of England, then I’m drifting out of my metaphorical no man’s land over to the optimistic camp. Five cup finals now. Five chances to match our energy today. Five chances to find some fight, some much needed fight.
I know it feels like it, but it’s not over. It’s not over until the bubbles blow at West Ham.