The long and damaging wait is over for Liverpool. On April 10, and at the eighth moment of asking, the Premier League champions finally won a match at Anfield in 2021 when Trent Alexander-Arnold’s 91st-minute goal deflated Aston Villa and lifted Liverpool back to the first four. It was not possible to hide what the goal meant for the full-back after a week of intense criticism following his error-ridden performance against Real Madrid, nor could Jürgen Klopp and his back-room team come off the bench in joy.
Dean Smith’s team appeared on course for a hard-earned road point after taking the lead through Ollie Watkins, hitting a post through Mahmoud Trézéguet and surviving a loud call from the VAR that denied Roberto Firmino the tie in the first half. But Alexander-Arnold’s excellent finish in front of the spectator Gareth Southgate, following Mohamed Salah’s 19th goal of the season in the league, gave Liverpool the liberation they needed before their second leg of the League quarter-final. Champions against the Spanish team.
In stark contrast to their midweek performance in Madrid, Liverpool were vibrant and crisp in the first half, denying Villa time and space in midfield and creating opportunities for both full-backs to attack regularly. However, the cruelty in front of goal that has been absent during the champions’ terrible run of results at Anfield was once again a problem.
Failing to turn possession into chances, or chances into goals, has been a recurring theme at Anfield this year, but far from Liverpool’s only flaw, as Villa’s advance shortly before half-time demonstrated.
Salah had a glorious opportunity to open the scoring when Tyrone Mings made a hash of a punt attempt on the edge of his own penalty area. The English defender allowed Diogo Jota’s direct pass to spill under his foot towards the unmarked Salah, who dribbled a first shot around which Emiliano Martínez advanced but deflected by the far post. A great relief for Villa, and not the only one in the first half.
Villa’s goalkeeper had already made a stop near the Egyptian international’s post and saw retired Firmino plus Jota and Salah walk wide as the hosts controlled the first half hour. Martinez was also on trial for hitting an Alexander-Arnold free throw with his fingertips and, from Andy Robertson’s corner, Jota went unmarked at the near post but headed from six yards.
Villa capitalized on the pardon. The visitors’ first genuine opportunity fell to Ezri Konsa, who directed a free header to Alisson from Matt Targett’s deep free kick to the back post, and his threat increased after the half-hour mark with Matty Cash and John McGinn testing. the clean. Liverpool’s shaved goalkeeper from a distance.
Alisson was defeated moments before halftime when Ollie Watkins inflicted further damage on Klopp’s defense. As with Real’s third goal on Tuesday, the Brazilian was beaten too easily. Ozan Kabak’s punt was cut off by Douglas Luiz, who had been close to being substituted earlier in the game through injury, but kept playing. Douglas Luiz confronted McGinn and found Watkins inside the area. The Villa forward, who scored a hat-trick when the teams met in October, spun and squeezed a low shot through Alisson’s weak right hand and entered.
Liverpool responded immediately and had every reason to believe they were tied when Firmino put the ball into the net in first-half injury time. Jota, thrown down the left by a good cross pass from Alexander-Arnold, cut the ball for Salah. He attacked Robertson, whose shot was deflected in the way of Liverpool’s number 9 at the back post. Firmino threw a fresh shot home once he had worked the ball under his feet but, after a VAR review that lasted almost three minutes, the effort was nullified by a fraction of offside against Jota. The VAR studied whether Cash had touched the delivery of Alexander-Arnold to the Portugal international, he had not, before presenting his geometry to rule out that Jota’s upper arm could have been a millimeter offside. Klopp, understandably, did not make the decision well.
However, his players were not intimidated and started the second half with determination. Mings blocked Salah after Liverpool had beaten Villa wide open on the left. The same route brought greater payoff from Liverpool’s next attack. A beautiful first touch from Jota converted James Milner’s pass to Robertson, who advanced into the area and got a good save from Martinez. The keeper could only convert the powerful thrust from the wing into the air, where Salah came in ahead of Mings to head home from close range. It was Liverpool’s first goal at Anfield since Salah’s penalty against Manchester City on 7 February.
Villa was inches from retaking the lead when Watkins found Trézéguet and the winger, with the outside of his right foot, fired a shot against the inside of the far post. The ball bounced through Alisson’s goal but ahead of the line. Trézéguet would later leave the pitch crying after being caught on Achilles’ back by Alexander-Arnold. It would not be the last intervention of the defender under pressure.
In the 91st minute Martínez made a superb save to deny Thiago Alcântara when the midfielder found a cross from his substitute teammate Xherdan Shaqiri with a volley from close range. Villa’s substitute, Anwar El Ghazi, brushed his clearance to Alexander-Arnold who lurked unmarked on the edge of the penalty area and the full-back finished forcefully in Martinez’s left corner.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism