Sadio Mane earned Liverpool a 2-1 victory at Aston Villa to keep the Premier League title race alive.
Douglas Luiz’s opener had left Jurgen Klopp’s side against him within three minutes, but Joel Matip quickly equalized and Mane completed the turnover midway through the second half. The win brings Liverpool level on points with leaders Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side still have one game less and the victory at Villa Park also came at a cost – Fabinho was injured in the first half. But Jurgen Klopp will just be happy to have passed this test as former Reds hero Steven Gerrard has certainly fired Villa.
AstonVilla: Martinez (6), Cash (7), Konsa (6), Mings (6), Digne (6), Luiz (7), McGinn (6), Nakamba (6), Coutinho (7), Ings (5), Watkins (7).
Subtitles: Chukwuemeka (6), Buendia (6), Traore (6).
Liverpool: Alisson (5), Alexander-Arnold (6), Matip (6), Van Dijk (6), Tsimikas (5), Fabinho (6), Jones (6), Keita (6), Diaz (7), Jota ( 6), mane (8).
Subtitles: Henderson (6), Thiago (6), Salah (6).
Man of the match: Sadio Mane.
How Liverpool turned the tide
Liverpool, who had named Mohamed Salah among their replacements in a nod to their busy schedule, were under pressure from the start and fell behind from the first attack in a frantic atmosphere. There were a series of errors in the construction.
Kostas Tsimikas, in place of Andy Robertson, fell to the ground and was joined by Matip, allowing Luiz to have a free header on Lucas Digne’s left wing cross. Alisson knocked him down when he could have pushed the ball away and the Brazilian put on the rebound.
With Klopp looking puzzled, it was all the encouragement Villa needed – but they undid their good work with an unfortunate defense of their own moments later. Tyrone Mings failed to clear and although Virgil van Dijk’s shot was saved, Matip pushed in the follow-up.
That seemed to settle Liverpool and there were chances for Diogo Jota and Mane soon after as the Champions League runners-up began to turn up the heat. And yet there was also danger when Alisson’s dismal clearance hit Ollie Watkins and more panic ensued.
Aston Villa have made two changes to the squad that beat Burnley with Philippe Coutinho starting against his former club, replacing Emiliano Buendia. The wonderful Nakamba replaced Callum Chambers.
Mohamed Salah fell to the bench to be replaced by Diogo Jota in one of five changes made by Jurgen Klopp. Curtis Jones and Naby Keita replaced Jordan Henderson and Thiago in midfield. Kostas Tsimikas replaced Andy Robertson at left-back, while Joel Matip returned for Ibrahima Konate.
Liverpool were playing football on the edge, knowing another slip could hand Man City the title, and when Danny Ings headed in on the bark of John McGinn’s cross with Alisson off his line grabbing the ball and the gaping goal, Villa was almost ahead again.
Fabinho’s hamstring injury added to the awkwardness of Liverpool’s task and although Mane had the ball in the net – Luis Diaz was offside in the build-up – and Naby Keita fended off a clear chance they went level at the break with their title hopes fading.
As so often, it was Mane who came up with the key moment, his pretty header from Diaz’s measured left wing center avoiding the sprawling Martinez and setting off wild celebratory scenes on the outside. It was the goal that reignited the title race.
Villa still had chances, with the best going to former Liverpool striker Ings. Twice he scored on goal to squander his chance before eventually finishing and seeing the flag go up, much to the Holte End’s anguish. For Ings and for Villa, it was not to be their evening.
For Liverpool, bigger nights lie ahead. In the FA Cup final on Saturday and the Champions League final in Paris later this month, that’s for sure. But maybe also in the final stages of this Premier League season. Thanks to Mane’s goal and the determination shown at Villa Park.
Analysis: Fabinho’s injury is a problem
While Pep Guardiola laments his side’s injury problems, Liverpool’s loss of Fabinho could have ramifications beyond the Premier League title race. Will he be fit for the FA Cup final this weekend? And the Champions League final that follows?
The Brazilian’s importance can hardly be overstated. A towering figure at the base of Liverpool’s midfield, Jurgen Klopp relies heavily on him to protect the defense in the air and on the deck, especially when covering marauding full-backs.
Indeed, Klopp has only missed Fabinho in his starting line-up three times in the Premier League since the start of the year – against Norwich, Watford and Newcastle.
The only Champions League game he missed in 2022 was the second leg against Benfica – which happens to be the only time this year that Liverpool have conceded three goals in a game. A quick return could be crucial for his team’s hopes.
Aston Villa are back in action at Villa Park on Sunday against Crystal Palace before Burnley are visitors on Thursday next week. Gerrard’s side wrap up their campaign with a trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City.
Liverpool’s next game is the FA Cup final against Chelsea at Wembley on Saturday, before returning to the Premier League at Southampton next Tuesday. Their last league game is at home against Wolves before they prepare for the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris on May 28.