BIRMINGHAM, England – At the end of the day when Manchester City made a dangerous new blockbuster addition for next season, Jurgen Klopp’s gambling with the depth of his own squad paid off to keep Liverpool in the race for the Premier League title.
City take over Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland is a reminder that they intend to set the pace both now and in the future, but Liverpool have proven here they are hungry to bring the current fight to an end, showing impressive defiance to secure a vital 2-1 win over Aston Villa despite a significantly changed line-up.
Klopp made five changes with Andy Robertson due to the free night while Mohamed Salah and Thiago Alcantara were among those on the bench as Kostas Tsimikas and Curtis Jones are drafted. It’s fine balancing, maintaining a level of performance while chasing the unseen Quadruple, which asks Klopp difficult questions with games every few days.
“I’ve known the boys for a long time [time]. If I asked them, everyone would say ‘I can play’ so I don’t ask, ”Klopp said.“ I have to make these decisions myself. Obviously I have nothing but watching football matches and footballers and, with all that in mind, you think, ‘How could that work today?’
“It’s with guys coming in without a lot of rhythm, it’s not that easy – Kostas, Curtis. Kostas was going through a lot of pain everywhere, and Curtis, at the time we started playing, was involved in really good moments. But we have to win the game so I thought now was the time for Thiago in the semi-space. My job is to make decisions. “
It threatened repercussions as Robertson’s replacement, Tsimikas, collided Ollie Watkins within the first three minutes as the couple intended to meet Lucas Digne‘s cross. Joel Matip he was also knocked down in the middle, leaving Douglas Louise on goal with his head, turning in the second attempt after Alisson saved his initial blow.
Matip responded almost immediately after Villa didn’t fight back Trent Alexander-Arnoldis a free kick. After the loss Fabinho to something that seemed like a tendon injury – further testing that depth – Liverpool stepped up after half time and Luis Diazlivewire all evening once more, crossed for Sadio Mane to look at the extraordinary header Emiliano Martinez.
In a way, it had to be Mane. He has scored nine goals in ten games against Villa, five in five at Villa Park, and no one has scored more than once for Liverpool since Diaz joined the club in late January.
It was Mane’s 15th goal of the season, meaning Liverpool became just the second team in Premier League history to have three players reach that milestone in the same campaign: Mane, Salah and Diogo Jota. Salah was given just 18 minutes here to continue Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, but Villa was more dangerous in that period.
Steve Nicol explains why he lost hope that Liverpool could win the title this season.
There have been former ties to Liverpool wherever you look, with Steven Gerrard in the Villa dugout alongside former Reds midfielder Gary McAllister. Liverpool received £ 142 million from Barcelona for Philippe Coutinho but there was no return on Tuesday as the Brazilian had one of his more muted evenings. Instead, it belonged to a former attacker Danny Ings threaten to ruin Liverpool’s title bid.
Ings, who signed for Liverpool in 2015 before leaving permanently four years later, was unsure when he found several promising positions, and when he beat Alisson with a low shot in 85 minutes, the offside flag was raised correctly.
Gerrard did his best by joining a disapproval choir aimed at Judge Jon Moss over a series of strange calls. He interrupted a question about Moss’s performance before it was worded: “No comment. I just hope they look at it. That’s all I’m going to say.” Telling him that Moss was retiring at the end of the season, Gerrard replied, “Is it? Good.”
Klopp revealed that Fabinho was optimistic about the possibility of ending his season – the midfielder watched the second half from the dugout in another encouraging sign – but the pace of the peak season is relentless with going to Wembley in four days.
“Now we have to recover, really recover and play the FA Cup final because obviously there is no mercy anywhere because we are creating this situation ourselves by qualifying for all the finals, which is absolutely massive,” Klopp said. We are playing an incredibly big game and from Thursday we will be preparing with the boys.
This hard-won victory was another reminder that each of them will be important. Praising City’s win over Haaland, Klopp said: “City will never be a team that wins because of one player.” The same goes for Liverpool.