A start for Darwin Nunez and Curtis Jones, captaincy for Trent Alexander-Arnold and a forced change at centre-back. That’s how Liverpool entered a sun-bathed Anfield to face an Aston Villa side that had won four in a row in all competitions, conceding only one goal and scoring 15. The scene was set.
The home side started out on purpose and it only took three minutes for them to register their first goal, after Pau Torres scrambled the ball out for a corner. Trent whipped the ball in and it bounced through the penalty area without a touch eventually falling to Dominik Szoboszlai on the edge of the box. His controlled left foot shot rocketed back into the corner and left Martinez absolutely stranded in the Villa goal. There was some argument that Mo Salah was blocking the Argentinian stopper’s view but, to be honest, I don’t believe two keepers would have got a hand to it. Just the start that The Reds needed.
Trent was absolutely pulling the strings and looked every much the part with captain’s armband on. It was therefore no surprise that it was he who played the through ball that began the move that would lead to the second goal. A delightful clipped through ball over the top of Villa’s defence for Salah to run on to and he let the ball bounce once before a deft little flick with the outside of his magic left peg allowed Darwin to run on the ball inside the box. His powerful shot slammed against the Villa post and richocheted back out and straight into a retreating Matty Cash who could nothing as the ball cannoned off him and into the net. An unfortunate own goal but in truth, Liverpool’s opening merited a second. It stayed that way until half time as Liverpool never really got out of second gear and really cruised into the break in total control.
The visitors started the second half better and could have pulled one back in the 48th minute courtesy of the head of Matty Cash. However, Alisson’s positioning was perfect and he showed yet again a strong hand to palm the ball away right on the goal line. Down the other end, Nunez could have made it three as Alexander-Arnold played another sublime ball to release Salah, who then provided what looked to be a perfect ball to the back post. However, the Uruguayan looked indecisive as whether to head the ball or volley it, in the end sending it just wide of the post. To be fair it did appear to take a touch off Martinez which could have put him off but he probably still should have tucked it away. He made amends six minutes later rising to meet yet another Liverpool corner and get a glancing header to the back post where Salah had the simplest of tap ins. 3-0 and it really was cruise control by now.
Cue the changes. Luis Diaz, Nunez and Jones left the pitch and on came Diogo Jota, Cody Gakpo and Harvey Elliott. Jones looked a little off the pace on his first start and so did Diaz, who was less than his usual self. Emery took off an ineffectual Bailey and brought on the Italian, Zaniolo. In the 71st minute, Liverpool’s stand-in captain felt a twinge and indicated to the bench that his afternoon was over, giving more valuable playing time to young centre-back Jarell Quansah, who had put in a decent shift at Newcastle a week earlier. This meant Joe Gomez would shift to right back to accommodate the change. There were more substitutions from both sides but no real threat on goal again, and the game slowed down to a crawl and another Liverpool victory.
Today’s take away is this. We have twice as many points from our first four games this season as we did last season and, on what would have been Gerard Houllier’s 76th birthday, this was one of those days where it wasn’t clear if we won or Villa lost. It was a very disappointing showing from a side who had appeared to turn a corner after their opening day woes against Newcastle. On the other hand, Jurgen Klopp should have seen enough from his troops to begin settling on a starting 11 (obvious Gravenberch will need some time) but they did look a little disjointed at times out there. The good news is that we have made it to the first international break undefeated with three wins from four. If this is what we can do while a whole new midfield continue to gel, imagine what it will be like when it all clicks. Exciting times ahead.