Liverpool managed a narrow win over Steven Gerrard’s Aston Villa yesterday, in what was a poignant homecoming for the former skipper. A tight game was decided by a Mohamed Salah penalty midway through the second half. Read on for a review of the game.

You can find player ratings from the match here:

° Hero’s return. It was a hero’s return for Steven Gerrard, with the pre-match talk all centred on what many called, an audition for Jürgen Klopp’s job. The fact that the job in question isn’t vacant for at least another three years didn’t slow down the tabloids and the mainstream media’s narrative.

° Gerrard’s tactics. The Villa boss chose to contain, rather than go blow for blow. An understandable approach when you look at how many opponents the Reds have laid to waste this season. Young was deployed on the left wing to help quell the threat of Trent and Salah, whilst Jacob Ramsey was given almost a man marking job on Thiago.

Villa set out to frustrate, with Emi Martinez wasting time on goal kicks and restarts from the very first whistle. It was textbook from Gerrard’s men, as they hassled and fought and blocked. They defended in numbers and left Watkins isolated up top, to chase and harass the centre backs. It almost worked as they held out till the penalty.

° Lack of cutting edge. Liverpool struggled to create any clear cut chances first half, with Robertson and Matip going closest with a couple of headers. The Reds struggled to get Salah in the game, as most of the play came down the left hand side, with Robertson getting into some great positions.

° Ox struggles. Oxlade-Chamberlain got the nod in the false nine role with Origi out injured and Jota only deemed fit enough to start from the bench. Ox seemed a bit unsure of where he was supposed to be at times, and it was telling we lacked numbers in the box when crosses came in, with Ox usually stranded outside the area.

° Ice cold Salah. It had been a bit of a frustrating afternoon for the Egyptian, but after winning the penalty off Mings, he wasn’t going to miss. It was that kind of afternoon for his side as they huffed and puffed without blowing down the Villa defence. The penalty was the chance and Salah knew it.

Martinez tried a bit of mind games but Mo was having none of it. He smashed it hard and low. Martinez, guessing the right way, got nowhere near it. That’s now 15 penalties in a row he’s scored in the Premier League, with only Matt Le Tissier (23) managing a longer run without a miss.

° Late pressure. Two minutes after Salah stuck his penalty away, Gerrard replaced Young with Buendia. Five minutes after that, he threw on Ings for Ramsey as he went for broke. They started causing a few more problems, with Alisson almost gifting Ings a goal. The Kop was nervy as Liverpool just about kept Villa at bay.

Mohamed Salah won his side the game from the penalty spot

° Lack of ruthlessness. With Villa throwing more bodies forward late on, gaps duly opened at the back for Liverpool to go on and attack. They countered well a number of times and should have killed off the game. Poor decision making saw Villa let off the hook time and again.

Salah messed up a pass when the Reds were three on two, with a goal almost certain. There were a few more occasions where the decision making deserted them, and it didn’t help that Jota missed another sitter late on, after the ball broke to him in the box.

Villa somehow stayed in the game and could have easily nicked an undeserved point at the end when Alisson smashed a clearance straight into Matip. It was a game Liverpool dominated, with a 2.48 xG to Villa’s 0.18, 20 attempts on goal to Villa’s 4, 5 shots on target to Villa’s 0 and 4 big chances to Villa’s 0. It would have been a steal for Villa.

° Another clean sheet. After conceding 3 goals at West Ham, Jürgen Klopp’s side have now won seven straight games, conceding just twice and keeping 5 clean sheets. It’s a marked improvement and one that can serve as the basis of their title charge. They are still topscorers, and it’s all well and good scoring 4 every week…

° Back to back 1-0 wins. It is unsustainable to expect to blow opponents away every week. With fixtures coming thick and fast during the festive period, it’s imperative to find ways to just keep winning. A solid defence is the backbone of every successful side, and Liverpool lead the way for clean sheets this term, keeping 10 in 16.

° Title race. It was a weekend where all three title contenders just edged over the line with a penalty. City found Wolves as hard a nut to crack as Liverpool did last week, only winning 1-0 after Jimenez was sent off and they were awarded a penalty second half. Chelsea also got more than they bargained for, as an injury ravaged Leeds took them all the way.

Tuchel’s side are suffering from a few injuries of their own and got over the line with a late Jorginho penalty (his second of the game). Their imperious defence now looks in disarray as they’ve failed to keep a clean sheet in any of their last five matches in all competitions. They’ve conceded more goals (10) in their last five than they did in the first twenty games (8) of the season.

As much as people mention the AFCON as a key factor in this title race, December cannot be overlooked. Nobody wins the title at Christmas, but they can sure lose it. All three sides found a way to win this time, but you can’t help but feel there are points to be dropped in the coming days and weeks.


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