Liverpool required redemption at Anfield and there was no better person to deliver it than Trent Alexander-Arnold. A trying week for the England international, indeed a trying year on home soil for the Premier League champions, ended with the release of an emphatic 91st-minute winner against Aston Villa that maintained Liverpool’s momentum for a top-four finish. A long and damaging wait is over.
At the eighth time of asking, and after an unprecedented run of six successive defeats, Jürgen Klopp’s team could finally celebrate victory at Anfield in 2021 and one tinged with the satisfaction of avenging October’s 7-2 humiliation at Villa Park. Celebrate it they did. Klopp roared with a mix of joy and relief when Alexander-Arnold swept a stunning shot beyond Emiliano Martínez in stoppage time. His backroom staff sprung from the bench in all directions while the defender, widely criticised after an error-strewn display against Real Madrid on Tuesday, stood in front of an empty Kop pointing to the Liver bird on his chest. Three invaluable points won and one important point made to the watching Gareth Southgate.
“Trent wants to be in the squad, that’s clear, but we don’t have to keep talking about it,” said Klopp, who recently claimed he could not understand the right-back’s omission from the last England squad. “We all agree that he’s a wonderful player and to be in the England squad you have to play outstanding football and Trent has done that often. Just leave the boy to play football.”
The manner of defeat was painful for Dean Smith and his Villa team, who led through Ollie Watkins’ first-half strike, hit a post through Mahmoud Trezeguet and survived a marginal VAR call that denied Roberto Firmino a first-half equaliser. Even after Mohamed Salah equalised for Liverpool with his 19th league goal of the season the visitors had several openings for a second goal, but their failure to take them was punished at the death.
“It was great to go in at half-time leading when we had not played that great,” the Villa manager admitted. “We were better in the second half but lost that 2-0. I felt we deserved a point.”
Liverpool produced a vibrant and sharp first-half performance, in contrast to their Champions League display in Madrid, although the ruthlessness in front of goal that has been absent throughout their dire Anfield run was again an issue. Salah was gifted a glorious opportunity when Tyrone Mings made a hash of an attempted clearance on the edge of his own penalty area. The England defender allowed Diogo Jota’s through ball to spill under his foot to the unmarked Salah, who trickled a first-time shot around the advancing Martínez but wide of the far post. Jota also headed wastefully over when unmarked at an Andy Robertson corner.
Villa capitalised on the reprieve. Watkins opened the scoring when, spinning on John McGinn’s piercing pass into the Liverpool area, his low shot squeezed under Alisson’s right hand. As with Real’s third goal in midweek, the Brazilian goalkeeper should have done much better.
Liverpool responded immediately. Firmino thought he had levelled in first-half stoppage time when Robertson’s shot deflected into his path and he scooped the ball in from close range. After a VAR review lasting almost three minutes, however, a forensic examination ruled that Jota had been a fraction offside when released in the buildup by Alexander-Arnold’s cross-field ball. Klopp understandably did not take the decision well on the sideline, but his team refused to be deterred by their latest Anfield setback.
Salah did equalise when Martínez made a fine save from Robertson but could only push the ball into the air, where the Egypt international reacted quickest to head home from close range. It was Liverpool’s first goal at Anfield since Salah’s penalty against Manchester City on 7 February. Trezeguet struck the inside of a post with a flick of his right foot, the ball bouncing back across but in front of the goal-line, before leaving the field in tears as a result of Alexander-Arnold catching the back of his ankle. It would not be the under-pressure defender’s last intervention.
In stoppage time Martínez produced a superb save to deny Thiago Alcântara when the midfielder met a cross from fellow substitute Xherdan Shaqiri with a close-range volley. Villa substitute Anwar El Ghazi scuffed the clearance to Alexander-Arnold, lurking unmarked on the edge of the penalty area, and the full-back swept an unstoppable finish around the Villa keeper and into the far corner.
“It was looking the same old story,” Klopp admitted. “We played well but made just one mistake and not the biggest mistake in the world but enough for the opponents to score. The next minute we scored a great goal but then you have to wait and it is ruled offside. We accepted long ago that it was going to be a bumpy season for us and we have to strike back again and again and again. We scored a wonderful goal to make it 2-1 and it was the most emotional goal we have scored here in ages.”