The unsettling news that captain Jack Grealish would now be out until at least May, instantly sapped the excitement out of this fixture for some fans. With Liverpool having to field a weakened defense and coming off the back of a tough defeat midweek in the Champions League, the thought of Grealish in this game was mouth-watering. However, it wasn’t to be.
Aston Villa started this game sluggishly, with a 59% pass accuracy in the first 15 minutes. Liverpool average a pass accuracy of 85%, which is second in the league. Possession was going to be hard to come by and Villa did themselves no favors early on.
Somehow, however, Villa went into the break leading 1-0 with Ollie Watkins notching his 12th league goal of the season. With an expected goals value of 0.44 xG to Liverpool’s 0.91 xG, paired with another dubious VAR decision ruling out a Liverpool equalizer, Villa were lucky to be leading at all.
It wasn’t long after the break that Liverpool finally broke the Villa barriers. Eventually leading to an Alexander-Arnold injury time heart breaker for Villa fans. Although most fans wouldn’t have expected a result here, it is the hope that kills you.
High work rate
You cannot fault the work rate of Dean Smith’s players in this game as they accumulated 307 pressures. This is the most all season — the previous high was the historic 7-2 win against Liverpool at home (231). The work rate was there, but Villa struggled to make the ball stick in the final third to build any meaningful attack.
Heartbreak for Trez
A large proportion of the work rate was undergone by Trezeguet, as is always the case when he’s on the pitch. He led the team with 42 pressures, but sadly, in the 82nd minute, he was substituted and it has now come to light that it is a suspected ACL tear. This is not only upsetting for him as a player as it is such a tough injury to deal with, but also weakens an already small squad with little depth.
Liverpool made this game incredibly difficult for Villa, only allowing 6.2 passes per defensive action, indicating a heavy press by the men in red. After conceding, Villa were using long balls 34% of the time as the graphic shows. Watkins was dispossessed five times and although he was impressive in this game, it was difficult for him to hold the play up and start any attacks.
Dean Smith opted for Ross Barkley to be subbed on in the 66th minute and Villa played a 4-4-2 formation. A strange decision after Keinan Davis’ impact off the bench in a 4-4-2 system against Fulham — this game was calling out for his ability to hold play up and increase the space for those around him as he occupies defenders.
Games like this outline one thing, Villa are desperate for depth in this squad. A result wasn’t expected here and the fact Villa could’ve quite easily obtained one is testament to the year on year progress Dean Smith continues to demonstrate.
We know Villa are safe, all attention now needs to be focused on improving this squad in summer, so Villa can be truly competitive next season and challenge for Europe. There is a solid spine in this team and a with a few more additions and the return of their star man in Jack Grealish, this team can really threaten next season.