Sadio Mane earned Liverpool a come-from-behind 2-1 win at Aston Villa to keep the Premier League title race alive.
Douglas Luiz’s early goal had left Jurgen Klopp’s side up against it inside three minutes but Joel Matip soon equalised and Mane completed the turnaround midway through the second half. The win moves Liverpool back level on points with leaders Manchester City.
Pep Guardiola’s side still have a game in hand and the victory at Villa Park also came at a cost – Fabinho trudging off injured in the first half. But Jurgen Klopp will just be glad to have come through this test as former Reds hero Steven Gerrard certainly had Villa fired up.
Aston Villa: Martinez (6), Cash (7), Konsa (6), Mings (6), Digne (6), Luiz (7), McGinn (6), Nakamba (6), Coutinho (7), Ings (5), Watkins (7).
Subs: 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).
Subs: Henderson (6), Thiago (6), Salah (6).
Man of the match: Sadio Mane.
How Liverpool turned it around
Liverpool, having named Mohamed Salah among their substitutes in a nod to their congested fixture list, were under pressure from the start and fell behind from the first attack amid a frenzied atmosphere. There were a series of errors in the build-up.
Kostas Tsimikas, in for Andy Robertson, tumbled to the ground and was joined by Matip, allowing Luiz to have a free header from Lucas Digne’s left-wing cross. Alisson spilt it when he might have pushed the ball away and the Brazilian put in the rebound.
With Klopp looking on bemused, it was all the encouragement Villa needed – but they undid their good work with some hapless defending of their own moments later. Tyrone Mings failed to clear and though Virgil van Dijk’s shot was saved, Matip prodded in the follow-up.
That seemed to settle Liverpool and there were chances for Diogo Jota and Mane soon after as the Champions League finalist began to crank up the pressure. And yet, there was danger too when Alisson’s woeful clearance struck Ollie Watkins and more panic ensued.
Aston Villa made two changes to the side that beat Burnley with Philippe Coutinho starting against his former club, replacing Emiliano Buendia. Marvelous Nakamba came in for Callum Chambers.
Mohamed Salah dropped to the bench to be replaced by Diogo Jota in one of five changes made by Jurgen Klopp. Curtis Jones and Naby Keita came in for 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 that another slip could gift the title to Man City, and when Danny Ings headed over the bark from John McGinn’s cross with Alisson off his line grasping for the ball and the goal gaping, Villa were almost ahead again.
Fabinho’s hamstring injury added to the awkwardness of Liverpool’s task and though Mane had the ball in the net – Luis Diaz was offside in the build-up – and Naby Keita spurned a clear chance, they went in level at the break with their title hopes fading.
As so often, it was Mane who came up with the key moment, his cute header from Diaz’s measured left-wing cross evading the sprawling Martinez and sparking wild scenes of celebration in the away end. It was the goal that reignited the title race.
Villa still had chances, the best falling to the former Liverpool forward Ings. Twice he was through on goal only to waste the chance before finally finishing and seeing the flag go up, much to the anguish of the Holte End. For Ings and for Villa, it was not to be their night.
For Liverpool, bigger nights lie ahead. In the FA Cup final on Saturday and in the Champions League final in Paris later this month, for sure. But maybe in the final stages of this Premier League season as well. Thanks to Mane’s goal and the resolve shown at Villa Park.
Analysis: Fabinho injury presents problem
While Pep Guardiola has been bemoaning his team’s injury problems, Liverpool’s loss of Fabinho could have ramifications beyond the Premier League title race. Will he be fit for this weekend’s FA Cup final? How about the Champions League final that follows?
“He felt a muscle, not too much,” Klopp said after the game. “He is quite positive but I am not sure what I can make of that, to be honest. We will see. He has a good feeling, that gives me a better feeling than when I took him off. We will see. I think the rest came through.”
The importance of the Brazilian can hardly be overstated. A towering figure at the base of Liverpool’s midfield, Klopp leans heavily on him to protect the defence in the air and on the deck, particularly when covering for those marauding full-backs.
Indeed, Klopp has only gone without Fabinho in his starting line-up on three occasions in the Premier League since the turn of the year – against Norwich, Watford and Newcastle.
The only Champions League game that he has sat out in 2022 was the second leg against Benfica – which just happens to be the only time this year that Liverpool have conceded three goals in a game. A swift return could be crucial to his team’s hopes.
Klopp: We had to dig deep
“Massive, outstanding, incredible mentality. We changed five of the team so we needed time to find our way into the game and the opponent was there from the beginning. The main issue was losing balls in the wrong areas. From there, it is difficult to get any rhythm.
“In the last 10 minutes of the first half, we began controlling the game. We scored the second incredible goal, Luis [Diaz] sensational, Sadio [Mane] made the world of it.
“Then, you have to dig deep. Yes, they had moments, a big chance with Ingsy [Danny Ings]. If my players were not as good as they are I would be here talking about different stuff but their quality and mentality is the reason why we are where we are.”
Gerrard: I am extremely proud
“We have to take those big moments we created in the game. I am slightly frustrated we didn’t score more than once. The positive for me is that we were courageous and went toe to toe with the best team in the world. I am extremely proud.
“I’m sure Danny [Ings] is going to play one or two of those moments in his head on the way home. I am delighted with what Danny brings to the team. He should be proud of what he brought, he worked his socks off. The positive for me is that we created good chances.”
Mane’s verdict on the winner
“It was a good cross from Diaz and I was in the box so I just had to put it in the net,” Mane told Sky Sports. “Even without power, I usually score and that’s what I tried to do. I know him very well, he’s a good player. Honestly I knew he was going to cross.”
Asked if this was his happiest time at Liverpool, Mane added: “When we win trophies, I was happier. I’m just trying to enjoy every moment. And try to score and assist for my team-mates. It’s for the team or nothing, the boys make it very easy for me, I’m very happy.”
Jordan Henderson added: “His performance was incredible. The work he does off the ball was incredible, defending at the end. But his quality in and around the box – it’s the gym isn’t it with those neck muscles! It was always going to be tough. We keep going.”
Liverpool’s win in stats
- Liverpool have now scored 43 away goals in the Premier League this season, only managing more in a league campaign once before, in 2013-14 (48) when they finished second in the top flight behind Manchester City.
- Liverpool secured their 19th win of the Premier League season against teams starting the day in the bottom half of the table, more than any other side has managed in a single campaign in the history of the competition.
- Liverpool are just the second team in Premier League history to have three players reach 15 goals in a single campaign (Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Diogo Jota), after Manchester City’s title winning side of 2013-14 (Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko).
Aston Villa are back in action at Villa Park on Sunday against Crystal Palace before Burnley are the visitors on Thursday of 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 they return to Premier League action at Southampton next Tuesday. Their final league game is at home to Wolves before they prepare for the Champions League final against Real Madrid in Paris on May 28.