Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
- Goals: Sadio Mane (£12.4m), Curtis Jones (£4.5m)
- Assists: Naby Keita (£5.8m), Mohamed Salah (£12.6m)
- Bonus: Mane x3, Alisson (£6.2m) x2, Virgil van Dijk (£6.5m) x1
The much-feared widespread rotation didn’t occur at Anfield on Sunday but Fantasy managers were still left with questions to ponder regarding the newly crowned league champions.
For those only looking at the score and having not seen the game, it seemed as if it was business as usual for the Reds.
Sadio Mane (£12.4m) registered a double-digit haul, Mohamed Salah (£12.6m) delivered an attacking return for his owners and Liverpool banked their customary clean sheet in a routine win, albeit a victory that was shorter on goals than perhaps expected.
But Liverpool, as was the case on Thursday at the Etihad, were well below their best.
Lacking rhythm in attack and looking less than secure at the back, a 2-0 scoreline flattered Jurgen Klopp’s side.
The drop-off in intensity might be down to a minor loss of motivation or just a lack of match-sharpness after a three-month break but, while we can’t really measure those unquantifiables, we can look at the cold hard stats.
The Reds had only two efforts on goal before half-time (one a blocked Mane drive from distance) and went on to register just six attempts all game.
Not only was that total three short of Villa’s shot count, it was also lower than all 17 other Premier League clubs who have been in Gameweek 33+ action so far.
At the other end, Alisson (£6.2m) had to repel efforts from Douglas Luiz (£4.3m) and Anwar El Ghazi (£5.3m) with the game goalless and was then at full stretch to tip Jack Grealish‘s (£6.1m) stoppage-time effort wide and preserve Liverpool’s clean sheet.
There were several other Villa counter-attacks besides those chances and, had Liverpool not been facing a side who had scored just twice in their last six Premier League matches, they may have come unstuck.
Klopp acknowledged the below-par display after the game although was at pains to highlight the adverse weather conditions as mitigation:
We play for everything every three days, for the three points, because you don’t get any more however good you play. You get three points if you win and that’s enough and I saw that again today. These boys are really fighting for these three points in a very difficult game.
Aston Villa did really well and now everybody will be really happy that I mentioned it but the wind was again really tricky. One reason, the wind [itself] and another reason, it dries the pitch like crazy and it means the pitch was really difficult. If you have the ball and you want to play then it’s difficult, if you cannot play on the ground but want to go with long balls [then] the wind doesn’t help with that.
Other than the two goals, there wasn’t much of note from the hosts.
Salah brought a comfortable save out of the recalled Pepe Reina (£4.2m) in the first half, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper also at full stretch to palm away Roberto Firmino‘s (£9.4m) 75th-minute effort.
Salah and Mane had both been well short of their best but their FPL owners weren’t to go away empty-handed from this game, with the Senegal international slamming home Naby Keita‘s (£5.3m) cut-back via the crossbar and Salah teeing up substitute Curtis Jones (£4.5m) to seal the win late on.
Klopp had made only three changes for this match and it was the 61st-minute introduction of that benched trio, Firmino, Jordan Henderson (£5.3m) and Georginio Wijnaldum (£5.4m), that provided the hosts with a bit more drive after a flat opening hour.
Explaining his team selection ahead of the game, Klopp said:
The number of games we have, it starts now really, we play now every three days. We need mix-ups of rhythm and fresh legs. If it’s possible not to make seven, eight changes, then we should not do that.
With Salah, Mane and Alexander-Arnold all completing 90 minutes against Villa, might it be one of their turns for a breather against Brighton and Hove Albion in midweek?
As for Villa, this match saw a continuation of their improved performances following the Premier League’s resumption in mid-June but sadly also the prolongation of their winless run, which now stretches to nine games.
The Villans ought to have beaten Sheffield United and Newcastle United in Gameweeks 30+ and 31+ and, had they possessed more cutting edge up front, could easily have scraped a point or more on Merseyside.
Defensively, they were – goals aside – excellent.
Neil Taylor (£4.2m) impressed at left-back and nullified Salah, while the ball-magnet that is Tyrone Mings (£4.4m) was ably assisted by the hard-working midfield trio in front of him.
Dean Smith praised his side but bemoaned the wasted chances, saying:
I’m pleased with the performance, attitude and work-rate of the players. The game plan could have got us more out of the game against a team that’s been unbelievable for the past two seasons.
To come to Anfield and out-shoot the opposition, in terms of efforts on goal, is no mean feat, but I don’t want to be a valiant loser because if we are then we’ll get relegated.
We’ve got to make the most out of our opportunities. We had a 4v2 at one stage when Jack was bursting through, he slipped it into El Ghazi and the goalkeeper made the save.
There were some really good performances from players, but we need goals at the moment. We need that quality in the final third. I believe it’s there and I believe it will come.
Grealish and Mings were both in the wars during the match, with the former needing treatment on a handful of occasions in the first half and the latter playing through the pain barrier late in the game, but both players finished the match and Smith was in positive mood in his post-match presser:
They’re both fine.
I think Jack’s strapping was a little bit too tight and it was giving his calf a few problems, so we loosened that up at half-time. He finished the game OK. Both calves were a little bit tight in the end. There’s no pull, that’s for sure, so he’s fine.
Tyrone got a kick in the calf as well. That’s not a pull. We’ll get back to Bodymoor Heath, get recovered for Thursday and should be fine to go.
For Liverpool, James Milner (£5.3m) – someone who could potentially fill in at full-back should there be rotation – missed out with a “tight muscle”.
Andrew Robertson (£7.0m) was substituted late in the game but allayed fears of an injury, saying:
All good, yeah. I’ve just got a bit of a dead calf just in the challenge with Grealish with about 20 minutes to go, just a tangle of legs and I got a dead calf. We’ll be good to go, it’s a hectic period [and] we need to keep as fresh as we can.
Liverpool XI (4-3-3): Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Gomez, Van Dijk, Robertson (Williams 90′); Keita (Jones 85′), Fabinho (Henderson 60′), Oxlade-Chamberlain (Wijnaldum 60′); Mane, Salah, Origi (Firmino 60′).
Aston Villa XI (4-4-1-1): Reina; Konsa, Hause, Mings, Taylor; Trezeguet (Vassilev 85′), Douglas Luiz, McGinn, El Ghazi (Jota 74′); Grealish; Davis (Samatta 74′).
FPL Lessons Learned from Gameweek 33+
- Norwich City 0-1 Brighton and Hove Albion
- Leicester City 3-0 Crystal Palace
- Manchester United 5-2 Bournemouth
- Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-2 Arsenal
- Chelsea 3-0 Watford
- Burnley 1-1 Sheffield United
- Newcastle United 2-2 West Ham United
- Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
- Southampton 1-0 Manchester City
- Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Everton
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