Liverpool moved up to sixth in the Premier League table with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa in a hugely entertaining game at Villa Park.
Mohamed Salah opened the scoring for Liverpool after just five minutes and Jurgen Klopp’s side doubled the advantage late in the half when Virgil van Dijk’s shot deflected into the far corner of the net. But Villa’s second-half salvo threatened a comeback.
Ollie Watkins’ expertly-placed header halved the deficit and chances continued to flow at both ends in a wide-open contest with Darwin Nunez particularly wasteful. But Stefan Bajcetic came off the bench to score his first senior goal and seal the points for Liverpool.
Aston Villa: Olsen (7), Young (7), Konsa (6), Mings (6), Digne (7), Luiz (7), Kamara (7), McGinn (7), Buendia (7), Watkins (7), Bailey (6).
Subs: Ings (n/a), Coutinho (n/a), Dendoncker (n/a).
Liverpool: Alisson (7), Alexander-Arnold (7), Matip (6), Van Dijk (8), Robertson (8), Fabinho (7), Thiago (6), Henderson (7), Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Nunez (7), Salah (8).
Subs: Elliott (6), Keita (6), Gomez (6), Bajcetic (8), Doak (n/a).
Player of the match: Mohamed Salah.
The result marks Unai Emery’s first Premier League defeat since replacing Steven Gerrard and there were certainly positives for the Spaniard. But such is the potency of this Liverpool team, going toe-to-toe with Salah and the rest always looked to be a risk.
How Liverpool beat Villa
Liverpool were on their way to a third consecutive Premier League win for the first time this season early in the game thanks to Salah’s breakthrough goal and it was a beauty. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s outrageous pass found Andy Robertson who set up Salah.
It was a reminder of how Liverpool can cut through the opposition with high quality and with Villa opting for a high defensive line there were opportunities throughout. But the home side caused plenty of problems at the other end – and it made for a great game.
Emiliano Martinez was absent for Aston Villa due to Argentina’s World Cup celebrations with Robin Olsen deputising. Ashley Young, Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey also came in for Matty Cash, Danny Ings and Jacob Ramsey as the four changes from the win over Brighton.
Jurgen Klopp made three changes to the Liverpool team that defeated Southampton before the break with Joel Matip, Jordan Henderson and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for Joe Gomez, Harvey Elliott and Roberto Firmino. It was Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first Premier League start in 10 months.
Watkins wasted a couple of chances and Leon Bailey miskicked when well placed. It proved costly when Salah teed up Van Dijk to measure the ball into the net on his left foot, the strike finding its way past Robin Olsen after deflecting off defender Ezri Konsa.
But Villa kept coming. Watkins evaded Joel Matip to head the ball into the corner and the momentum looked to be with Emery’s men. Nunez would have had to take the blame for the dropped points following a number of misses – but instead he set up the key goal.
After bursting away down the left channel, the Uruguayan did well to keep the ball in play and substitute Bajcetic showed real composure to skip past Olsen before beating Tyrone Mings on the goal line. It was tough on Villa but Liverpool’s quality told in the end.
Hardworking Nunez divides opinion
Former Republic of Ireland international Andy Townsend, on co-commentary for this game, named Nunez as his player of the match and that made some sense given his willing running, but the striker’s wastefulness will not have impressed everyone watching.
Nunez jumped over the ball when it looked easier to finish with his left foot then misdirected a header wide when unmarked. He shinned a volley after running clean through on goal and then failed to beat Olsen from point-blank range. That was all in the first half.
His touch is far from sure, his decision-making less than exemplary, but such is his running power and appetite to work that few forwards in the Premier League are able to find themselves in such good positions as often as Nunez. It proved decisive in the end.
One final run in behind the defence led to Liverpool’s third goal. That is why the long-term prognosis for Nunez’s Anfield career remains optimistic. Surely anyone who is able to be on the end of this many chances is going to score goals – and lots of them.
Liverpool’s win in stats
- Liverpool have won three consecutive Premier League games for the first time since winning their final three games of the 2021-22 campaign
- Liverpool full-back Andrew Robertson assisted his 54th Premier League goal in this match, making him the all-time leading assister among defenders in Premier League history
- Mohamed Salah scored his 55th away Premier League goal for Liverpool; the joint most of any Reds player, level with Michael Owen
- Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins has scored five goals in five Premier League appearances against Liverpool, two more than he’s scored against any other side
- Stefan Bajcetic scored his first Premier League goal aged 18 years and 65 days, becoming Liverpool third youngest Premier League scorer, behind Michael Owen and Raheem Sterling
- Ben Doak came off the bench for Liverpool to make his Premier League debut aged 17 years and 45 days, becoming the youngest ever Scottish player in the competition’s history
FPL Stats: Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool
|Goals||Salah, Van Dijk, Watkins|
|Assists||Robertson, Salah, Luiz|
|Bonus points||Salah (3), Van Dijk (2), Robertson (1)|
Sunday 1st January 1:00pm
Kick off 2:00pm
Aston Villa are back in action on New Year’s Day when they face Tottenham away from home live on Sky Sports Premier League.
Liverpool are not yet done in 2022. They host Leicester live on Friday evening before taking on Brentford on January 2. Both games are live on Sky.