I must admit that I have an inexplicable soft spot in my heart for the Villa. I think it’s because they were somewhat of a force to be reckoned with during the time that I became a Liverpool fan in the late 70’s, and yet, even then they were somewhat of a cinderella under Saunders. As a young and impressionable child at the time, for whatever reason, the name somehow stuck. I love seeing them back in the top division, and I didn’t even mind the drubbing they handed the Reds academy team late last year, as it was valuable experience for the youngsters and, like I said, I have that soft spot. I hope they manage to stay for awhile.
None of that mattered for today, of course. What did was that they managed a rather superb job of resisting the champions, with senior centerback Tyrone Mings being downright magnificent in his role of being the glue to Salah’s mercury (is this a phrase? I don’t think it’s a phrase). The only problem for Dean Smith and his spirited troupe was that Liverpool wasn’t playing at full strength. Klopp was certainly giving his supersubs – Origi, Ox, and Keita – an opportunity to argue their point for legitimacy as starters, but they all failed to do so. Origi made a nuisance of himself as always, but he wasn’t connecting with his teammates, and harmed the effectiveness of Mane, who simply isn’t as good playing in the center; Salah might have done better in that role. Ox tried to be Henderson, but he isn’t, and Keita was occupying the space he prefers. Keita himself more or less disappeared. Between them, they gummed up the workings of the machine, and also made Fabinho look miserable.
Ultimately the german gave up, and brought on the starters. The change was immediate. With the township of Hendersville re-established in the center of the pitch, its mayor oversaw proceedings, as Mane moved to the left where he is so devastating, Bobby smiled his way to terrorizing the opposition, and Gini pressing everything that moved. Purpose was found, intent was declared, and the machine purred to life almost instinctively.
The water break actually gave Villa a respite, but the goals were coming.
Mane’s hit was a beauty, as Liverpool carved the Villa defense quickly, smoothly, and deliberately. That the ball bounded in off the bar made it more exciting, but the play leading up to the goal was flawlessly executed. It was the simple answer to the question that has been the theme of this season – how do they keep doing it? The way Liverpool works out things when they are clicking is breathtaking in both its patience and its directness, and when the pieces set up, it takes but a couple of seconds to pull the trigger.
A celebration is truly deserved for one Curtis Jones, who came on and got involved immediately, managing to grab his first premier league goal. More than anything else, the lad’s positioning and anticipation seem to be off the charts. There is a lot of football there, and as he continues to mature in his game, it is a safe bet that we will see and enjoy much more of him. Neco got a third checkmark on the route to five and a winners’ medal, and surely Harvey Elliott would have gotten one too if it weren’t for the need to bring on those other three.
I am almost tempted to hand out a man-of-the-match award to Mings for his incredible performance, but instead I’ll go with Liverpool’s man between the posts, Alisson Becker. He wasn’t called on a lot, but you have to think that a less able keeper would have let at least one in. How does he maintain this level of concentration? how can anyone have such instincts? his mere presence makes the opposing attackers lose their confidence (give Jack Grealish the same free shot he got towards the end a hundred times, and he scores ninety-nine of them). I remember wondering if he was worth the money when Liverpool pried him out of Roma. Now I wonder if he will end up as one of the greatest in history.
Two more home games to go before the first perfect premier league home record is in the history books, the only other team to have done so being Sunderland back in the 19th century. Four more wins will see the centurions off the books. Does Klopp care? I’m not sure. He says he doesn’t, and the guy doesn’t seem to have a lying bone in his body. But it sure gets the blood going to think just how quickly Liverpool may rewrite a record that, when set a couple of years back, looked utterly impossible to ever get near to again.
What a special time to be a fan.