Liverpool beat Aston Villa at Anfield in the fourth round of the Premier League campaign on Sunday by 3-0, courtesy of a third-minute opener from Dominik Szoboszlai, an own-goal by Villa defender Matty Cash in the 22nd, and a composed close-range finish from Mohamed Salah in the 55th.
Liverpool expectedly dominated possession (64%) and took a total of 17 shots, four of which went on target, as opposed to Villa’s nine, three on target.
Szoboszlai’s goal, his first in a Liverpool shirt, came after the first corner of the game, taken from the right by Trent Alexander-Arnold. The ball went through the box with an outward curve, and missed by everybody in the crowd around the penalty spot, it was thumped home by the Hungarian.
The attack that set up the second goal was initiated by a perfectly weighed long pass from Alexander-Arnold to Salah. The Egyptian took it well and set Darwin Nunez up inside the box and the Uruguayan striker smacked it hard, hitting the near post. Unfortunely from Villa’s point of view, the rebound caught Cash a yard or two in front of the goal with goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez already beaten, and it bounced off the Poland defender into the empty net.
A corner well taken by Andy Robertson from the right preceded the third goal, as Nunez won the ball in the air and directed it towards the far post where Salah was quicker than his marker to tap it in.
The Merseysiders had a couple of chances to add to their tally, most notably a free header sent wide by Joel Matip and a Salah effort that Martinez somehow tipped over the bar.
As for Villa, they had a pair of good chances themselves, either side of the break. As Joe Gomez slipped and lost the ball in his own half in the first half, the attack ended with John McGinn blasting over the bar. Cash came close to making up for his own goal in the second half, but his fine header was stopped by a brilliant save from Alisson Becker.
Salah has no price
This was the 10th consecutive Premier League game in which Mohamed Salah either scored or made an assist. It’s the best output a player in the English top flight has had since 2021, when the same player completed a string of 15 matches between August and December. At the age of 31, the Egyptian winger is obviously still going strong, and as Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp made it clear on several occasions over the last couple of weeks, his services have no price at the moment.
10+ – Mohamed Salah is the first player to score or assist in 10 consecutive appearances in the Premier League since Mohamed Salah between August-December 2021 (15 games in a row). Priceless. pic.twitter.com/tjxcHWbGDC
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 3, 2023
The interest of Al-Ittihad in Salah has been well documented, with the Merseysiders rejecting an offer potentially rising to £150 million for him. The fact that they expressed that interest so late in the transfer window certainly didn’t help the Saudi side in their efforts. Had they made their offer at the start of July, maybe Liverpool would have considered it, providing Salah himself wanted to leave. But even back then, when everything on that front was still at the rumour stage, his agent made a very strong claim that there is no intention from their camp to leave Anfield this year.
Obviously, Liverpool will not be contemplating any offers now, being unable to sign any kind of replacement for their arguably best player over the last couple of years.
Van Dijk barely missed
One can never honestly say that the absence of a player like Virgil van Dijk isn’t a blow. The red card he received in the previous match against Newcastle meant he was suspended for this one, and with Ibrahima Konate out through injury, Klopp was forced to put the partnership of Matip and Gomez to the test.
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Apart from one mistake from each centre-back, of which the one made by Gomez could’ve been costly, they both played a very good game, and most ironically, the first game Liverpool played without Van Dijk this season was also the first in which they managed to keep a clean sheet.
Speaking to the press afterwards, Klopp explained that most of it was down to a good job done in midfield, the area of the squad that has gone through some major changes this summer to include four new names. Ryan Gravenberch is still to play for his new club, and the jury is probably still out on Wataru Endo, but Alexis Mac Allister and Szoboszlai are proving to be big hits in the transfer market, making a big difference on the pitch every time.
All in all, Liverpool defender very well without their captain.
Villa’s mixed form
Meanwhile, Unai Emery’s team have had big oscillations in their performances, and consequently results. They started the campaign in a bad way, losing 5-1 away to Newcastle, but they looked very good as they beat Everton 4-0 at Villa Park and Burnley 1-3 at Turf Moor.
In all honesty, Newcastle and Liverpool are both extremely tough to play against, especially at their own grounds, but based on what was seen from this team in the previous two games, not to mention the 8-0 aggregate thrashing of Scottish side Hibernian in the Europa Conference League qualifications in between, a tougher resistance at Anfield was probably expected by many.
The fact that the opening goal came so early in the game certainly didn’t help, but Villa have some high-quality players in their ranks who rarely fail to put in a strong performance. All in all, it was a disappointing outing from Emery’s men, coupled with a notable lack of luck, not to mention Liverpool’s quality, that brought about this result.
Judging by what they’ve shown so far, Villa should be able to beat Crystal Palace at home after the international break without too much difficulty, but it’s one thing to say that, and completely another for it to actually happen. Palace won’t come to Villa Park with a white flag.
As for Liverpool, they should also be favourites to win when they travel to face a much-troubled Wolverhampton Wanderers side. This summer, Wolves lost a number of important players from previous seasons, including Raul Jimenez, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Conor Coady, Adama Traore, and last but not least, Matheus Nunes.
Liverpool are now in third place, in a group of four teams with 10 points, and only Manchester City above with a 100% record from four games played so far. Villa’s six points have them in 10th place, also in a group of four.