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First Eleven: 11 talking points to chew on after a dramatic Villa Park heartbreak

Liverpool beat Aston Villa 2-1, and there’s plenty to discuss. Here’s our 11 talking points!

Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Villa have taken back-to-back losses against the champions, and the champions-elect. Liverpool took Villa to the wire, and came out as eventual winners in a heartbreaking match-up at Villa Park.

Here’s our talking points.


1. It was always coming

Let’s rip the plaster/band-aid off, shall we? There is not one soul in that 40,000 strong Villa Park crowd that thought Aston Villa were winning this game.

That’s not a negative - at all - few teams will beat arguably the best footballing team in the world.

However, for 87-odd minutes, Aston Villa were winning the match and starting to look capable of taking home all three points. Then a wild Andy Robertson appeared with the critical hit. They ran back to the centre-circle after their equaliser to demand a winner, and then they scored it.

Until that moment, Villa probably thought they had it - but Liverpool were creating chances and were growing increasingly unlucky not to score those chances. There are only so many chances you can create without scoring, and there are only so many chances you can defend before you concede. This is a zero-sum game because eventually something will give, because it has to, and that’s how football happens.

As the clock ticked, Villa’s belief grew exponentially - but it was always coming and it’s gutting to concede so late and blow it all up late-on. The later the match grew, the likelihood of an Aston Villa victory increased and this is why it bloody hurts so much.

That’s why they are nicknamed the ‘Mentality Monsters’ - Liverpool knew that they were winning this, no matter the time left, and chucked the kitchen sink at a Villa team hanging onto the game.

2. Liverpool’s substitutions and possession killed the match

Liverpool were able to bring Naby Keita, Divock Origi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on throughout the second-half. These are three players who would start for Aston Villa, and they are three players who came on as second-half replacements against Aston Villa.

To control games, you have to make the correct changes. You have to remove ineffective or tired players in exchange for fresh-legged bench options. Liverpool are an elite team and have incredible strength in depth.

For instance, Origi is considered a Liverpool legend for scoring the narrative goals - the one against Barcelona - for example. If you can bring a player as storied at Liverpool as Origi off the bench, you’re onto a winner. Villa on the other hand, would be in a position where they would have to start Origi every match - and while that isn’t a bad place to be, it really shows that it’s not your starters who matter, but the calibre of player you can bring on in replacement.

The real key here? Liverpool were able to control the game and rest on the ball. Villa weren’t, and spent the game pressing. You get tired and you can’t change out your entire team. The more tired you are, the more mistakes you will make.

Relatively speaking, Villa’s depth is strong, but you cannot really hope to compete when a team revitalises their flagging side with good substitutions while your own team are exhausted in chasing the game. Frederic Guilbert was taken off for Ahmed Elmohamady due to tired legs, but Villa can’t replace the other nine players who had been sprinting after Liverpool. It just doesn’t work like that.

3. Trent Alexander-Arnold is the real deal

Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Both Liverpool and Manchester City portray the full-back as an important position, and if we saw the quality of Manchester City’s full-backs, we certainly saw the quality of Liverpool’s as well.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is the modern full-back. He’s a deep winger, a secondary striker, a playmaker, a defender, a wing-back, a full-back. In this system, Robertson and TAA are expected to do everything, and they do everything about as well as they can do.

For Trent, he may sacrifice some defensive position and be prone to error, but he offers so, so much to the team. Mainly, he’s got an absolute cannon of a foot that can open up the pitch for Liverpool’s other nuclear bomb on the wing, Andy Robertson.

I mean look at these passes:

There’s a fair few of those being boomed across the pitch to Robertson. These players open up games for Liverpool, and TAA is the real deal.

Full-backs? Incredibly important if they are any good, and in my honest opinion Matty Targett and Fred Guilbert aren’t horrifically far behind.

4. Wesley’s ‘good’ impression

Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Wesley didn’t do a great deal wrong against Liverpool. He was man-marked all game by a relentlessly physical Jordan Henderson, who really got his hands and feet into Wesley. When Wesley did get the ball, he was blocked by Virgil Van Dijk.

Again, Wesley had a frustrating game, but he carried on pressing throughout and showed the ‘passion’ that plenty of his doubters were looking for. In a game where he had practically no hope of doing anything, he fought for the ball, every time, and it was only luck that evaded him.

Did he have a shot on goal? No. Did he win all of his duels, or even most of them? No. Did he fall to the floor in frustration? Yes. Wesley committed all of the ‘crimes’ yet he still refused to give up. He looked a lot more like Villa’s record signing than in previous weeks, and was urged on by the crowd to press, and he did. In the situation, Wesley left the best impression that he could - that he tried. With it all against him, he tried.

Ideally, he’ll be fired up for a tricky game at Molineux next week, and that he can build on this decent platform after a tough few weeks.

5. Trezeguet’s efforts rewarded

Aston Villa v Liverpool - Premier League - Villa Park Photo by Anthony Devlin/EMPICS/PA Images via Getty Images

Trezeguet, if nothing else, tries. He runs up-and-down the pitch, he covers a lot of grass, he attempts incredible manoeuvres, and always tries to score.

The problem for him though is that if you’re playing up-front, a lot will go wrong and there is little room for error as you play into an elite defence. When you’re flying up the wing, you’re usually being chased, and you’re usually running into a brick wall with all the pressure in the world propelling you. Being a winger - and succeeding all the time - is impossible because the position itself relies on being fit, fast, cocky and strong as well as attempting all manner of tricks at high speed to beat the opposition. It is not a consistent position so we cannot expect wingers outside of the elite to be consistent.

Trezeguet is a superstar in Egypt, and that’s at odds with his pretty humble attitude on the pitch. He’s always trying to burst forward, he loves to run at players and he seems genuinely surprised when things go well for him. It’s the child-like love for the game that seemed so prominent in Albert Adomah that Trezeguet seems to use as a catalyst to burst up the pitch.

He’s a joy to watch, and I’m so glad that he got his first goal for Aston Villa.

6. Late chances

Unfortunately, Aston Villa fell down in the second-half again. Spurs, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City have all crushed Villa in the second-half, winning points from Aston Villa who at half-time, had at least one point in the bag.

It’s been crushing, to be honest. In all of these games, Villa have danced with the great teams of this league only to be slapped and put back in their box at full-time. It’s frustrating, but it’s reality. The teams Villa have dropped big points to in big performances have been Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham - or teams likely to beat the Villa.

The key? Learn from the performances against the elite and ensure Villa don’t drop late goals to teams on more equal footing.

7. Good without Grealish

Jack Grealish wasn’t really fit enough to feature against Liverpool, and that caused a lot of concern in the fanbase for if Villa are doing good things, it is usually because of the work of Jack Grealish.

I thought Villa gave a good account of themselves without their captain. They made enough chances without Grealish to affect the game, and didn’t seem to miss him too much. Villa would’ve been better with Grealish - and may have won due to the time that he sucks out of the game - but they certainly weren’t hopeless without him.

Considering the state of Villa last season without Jack, that’s a good sign.

8. Offside is brutal

Roberto Firmino’s ‘goal’ for Liverpool in the first-half was ruled out for off offside. This offside decision is correct, and it’s nothing to do with VAR as it was flagged (how?) by the linesman who somehow spotted that Roberto Firmino’s armpit was ahead of Tyrone Mings’ knee.

The footage was reviewed by the Video Assistant Referee in a fairly lengthy pause before the decision of ‘no goal’ was confirmed.

Now, the offside rule is the rule and offside is not subjective. If Firmino is ahead of Mings, he’s offside - no matter what, offside, is offside. However, there is plenty of scrutiny that we can pour onto this particular event and it is a big talking point.

We cannot see the linesman’s angle on this, and thus we do not get a ‘true view’ of the situation. We are given one angle, and as you might know from cinematography, camera angles deceive even when they aren’t mean to. We do not have multiple angles, and we certainly do not have the actual line.

Theoretically, we cannot tell at all if this is offside based on the digitally produced line on the single angle we are provided. Was this the exact moment the ball was played in to Firmino, or was it split-second before, when his armpit was behind Mings? Was the angle clearer to the linesman, who managed to spot a inch-difference in live-action?

Simply put, we cannot tell. While we do have an angle that shows an offside, it’s not the full story and to provide a forensic dissection of a single frame on a single angle isn’t right. We need more footage if this is going to happen.

What’s more, is VAR really going to overturn this linesman when the call is this tight? I’m not so sure. With bias, I can happily say that I’m glad Villa got this slice of luck, but that’s not right at all.

This shouldn’t come down to luck.

9. Hourihane’s ‘chance’

Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League Photo by Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC via Getty Images

Villa had an excellent chance to shoot and extend their lead deep into the second-half as Conor Hourihane drove into the box to force goalkeeper Alisson to come forward. However, instead of shooting from a tight angle, Hourihane cut the ball across.

And nothing happened.

Trezeguet and El-Ghazi chased the chance, but it was cleared. Wesley - having started the move - was far too deep to involve himself. Nobody was able to receive the ball and shoot.

Thus, we bemoan Conor for not shooting - but if he had shot with Alisson closing him down, and if he had missed, we’d be bemoaning him for not cutting it across. He really can’t win here. That’s what good goalkeeping does - it forces your hand.

He did the right thing - and that was to create a better chance for his teammate, it’s just a shame it didn’t work out.

10. Most of the takes are ok

There are plenty of people with an incredibly high opinion of the Villa that may be incredibly upset with the manner of the loss. It was crushing and it hurt.

There are also plenty who will be pleased with Villa’s performance, and the heroic manner of defending.

We are all different people and we all experience football in different ways, and if we sell it as the beautiful game, the game which means more, we must be able to accept that people are going to be irrational, and it is up to us to ignore them rather than signal boost them.

We must accept that reactionary takes will happen in the wake of a crushing loss such is the intensity of our emotion when Aston Villa are involved. People are going to be outraged and upset, or they are going to be calm and acceptive. Some people will cross the line, but that happens.

That’s football right? And balance is ok. The good comes with the bad, and it does so in all walks of life. Football is no different and maybe no one opinion is ‘the right one’.

Me? All I know is that the last time we played these guys, we got beat 6-0. I’m happy.

11. Next up

Aston Villa close out this chapter of the season against Wolves before heading into the international break. Ideally, they can claim a good victory with a good performance following the expiration of their ‘free hits’ against the top two.

Up the Villa.