Champions Liverpool came from behind to beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Anfield to temporarily move into the Premier League’s top four.
Dean Smith’s side went ahead as England striker Ollie Watkins poked in just before half time, but second half goals from Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold gave Liverpool the points.
It may have taken till the 91st minute but Jurgen Klopp and his players won’t care. They have ended their torrid patch of six consecutive home defeats in the league and can now look ahead positively.
By snapping an eight-game winless run at home, stretching back four months to before Christmas, this win represents a huge psychological boost to Klopp personally and his players.
Coupled with the away wins over Wolves and Arsenal, three on the spin, and now suddenly Klopp’s side are back in contention for a top four place.
This is testament to the players, the staff and their resolve.
A month or two ago, Klopp’s star-studded champions would have crumbled after going a goal down.
However, the team dug deep, and fought back to earn a creditable result.
First half analysis:
The game began with both sides observing a minute’s silence for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away on Friday at the age of 99.
An early chance fell Liverpool’s way, as Diogo Jota attempted to slip the ball through to Salah, only for England defender Tyrone Mings to mis hit, nearly gifting the Egyptian striker, who could only poke the ball wide.
A fierce in swinging corner from Andy Robertson was whipped onto the head of Jota, who’s effort narrowly flew over the crossbar.
As half time approached, Villa went ahead against the run of play as John McGinn passed to Watkins, and the former Brentford man thundered the ball home with a swing of his left boot.
Admittedly, Alisson got a touch and probably should have done better.
This then felt like déjà vu for Liverpool who have struggled at home of late.
The 2019 Champions League winners didn’t let their heads drop though and thought they had equalised in first half stoppage time, as pinball in the Villa penalty box eventually saw Bobby Firmino chip the ball home.
There was however, yet another twist in the tale, as VAR chalked out the goal for offside on Jota to cut short the Liverpool celebrations.
The dubious decision seemed harsh and incorrect as the video technology official drew the line near the Portugal forward’s elbow, instead of the sleeve as per standard protocol.
This again sparks debate as to whether VAR is ruining the game with its harsh and petty decisions, and cancelling out well-crafted goals, whilst also disrupting the natural flow and emotions of the sport.
But for Liverpool, they would again have to overcome adversity in order to win.
Second half analysis:
In the 57th minute, Liverpool finally got the equaliser they deserved as Robertson’s drive was palmed into the path of the onrushing Salah, who calmly headed home to level the score.
Klopp’s heart must have been in his mouth as yet more brilliance from the impressive Watkins, saw a different Egyptian hotshot in Trézéguet, smash against the post, before putting his diving header rebound wide.
As the final whistle drew nearer, the champions worked the ball nicely around the edge of the Villa penalty area, and substitute Xherdan Shaqiri snapped a teasing cross into Thiago Alcântara, only for the Spaniard to be denied by a fabulous save.
However, lurking on the edge of the box was Alexander-Arnold who controlled the ball before bending in a thunderous 25-yard piledriver to spark huge Liverpool celebrations and steal all three points in the dying seconds.
The strike was Beckhamesque. Steven Gerrard or David Beckham would have been proud of that.
A goal worthy of winning any match, and the relief it brought Alexander-Arnold and Liverpool may go a long way in deciding the youngster’s England hopes this summer.
The race for the top four hots up
The victory took Klopp’s men to 52 points, a point above Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea.
However, the Blues’ 4-1 win over Crystal Palace later in the day took them back to fourth.
West Ham then moved into the fourth Champions League spot on Sunday, as they held on to beat Leicester City 3-2.
With all three teams having played 31 matches and only seven games to go, it’s all to play for.
Premier League run in:
Liverpool will play away at Leeds United on Monday night, with Newcastle at Anfield on Saturday 24th April to follow.
The champions will then begin the final month of the season away to Manchester United, before hosting Southampton at Anfield.
Klopp’s men will then travel to West Brom and Burnley away, followed by the final game of the season against Crystal Palace at home.
This occasion might have the added caveat of the club welcoming back supporters, which would seem a fitting way to finish yet another Covid disrupted season.
Having lost 3-1 to Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals first leg, Liverpool will welcome the Spanish side to Anfield tonight.
Having controversially selected Naby Keita in midfield, the injury prone Guinean who has been on the sidelines for most of the season, fans will be hoping there won’t be more bizarre team selections.
Thiago and Gini Wijnaldum are likely to start alongside Fabinho in midfield.
Ozan Kabak and Nat Philipps will again pair up in the heart of the defence.
With Sadio Mane out of form, Firmino, Salah and Jota are expected to lead the line.
Having toiled in Madrid, Liverpool will be expected to put in much more of a fight in the second leg.
At times in the first half, they seemed so pedestrian and backed off every time Zinedine Zidane’s side came forward.
They must go on the attack immediately if they are to stand any chance of going through.
A goal in the first 20 minutes, like they did against Barcelona two seasons ago, is pivotal.
I personally see Klopp’s men only managing a score draw but hopefully Champions League nights at Anfield being magical and special, will inspire the players.
Yes, there will be no fans, which is a huge blow but who’s to say Madrid won’t be as afraid as Barca were on that famous night.
We’ve seen miracles before on European nights at Anfield, but with fans at home and two goals behind on aggregate against arguably the greatest Champions League team of all time, Liverpool will face their toughest test.