Liverpool goal proves rule must change in summer as Jurgen Klopp fumes at Aston Villa

The celebrations from the Liverpool players – and the away end they stood in front of at full-time – said it all. Jurgen Klopp’s white flags remain below deck. There will be no surrendering to Manchester City yet. Not here.

An exhausted, elated set of players soaked up the applause from the few thousand followers stashed away in the far corner of Villa Park as they recorded a big three points that took them level at the summit once more.

If all that is left for Liverpool to do is win and pray where their title hopes are concerned, then the first part of that directive was achieved here at Villa Park.

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Now comes the other bit for Klopp as he prepares to go on bent knee to the deities of English football, cap in hand, asking – praying – for a City falter.

This most hard-fought of 2-1 wins at Villa Park again takes them level on points with their great rivals. Once more, the pressure is on the current champions to deliver, this time in the more difficult surroundings of Molineux on Wednesday night.

Liverpool know as well as anyone this season how difficult it can be to break down Bruno Lage’s Wolves in front of their own support and Klopp must hope against hope they will prove to be just as stubborn.

Villa Park has been something of a strange place to visit in recent seasons. After a title charge was emboldened by the latest of turnarounds in 2019, a team of academy hopefuls then had to be fielded in a 5-0 Carabao Cup defeat as Klopp and his first-team stars watched four thousand miles away in Qatar at the Club WorldCup.

It was then the scene of the most abject night of the German’s reign when they were beaten 7-2 on a freakish, bizarre sort of night in Birmingham in October 2020. Their most recent trip before Tuesday saw them line up against a team largely made up of Under-18 players after the coronavirus left several of Villa’s main men out of action for an FA Cup tie in January last year.

With that kind of surreal recent history lingering, it was difficult to know what to expect, particularly with Steven Gerrard at the helm and Philippe Coutinho now pulling the strings in claret in blue.

Gerrard’s pre-match declaration that he was employed simply to win games for Villa rang true; his side gave no quarter to the club their manager enjoys legendary status at. It will have been exactly how he wanted it.

Klopp made five changes in total as Mohamed Salah, Ibrahima Konate, Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara dropped to the bench and Andy Robertson missed out entirely. With one eye on Saturday’s FA Cup final against Chelsea, it could yet prove to be an inspired decision.

The visitors were undone inside four minutes when Douglas Luiz followed in a header that was initially saved by Alisson Becker to tap in and give the home side the lead. It was uncharacteristically poor defending as Kostas Tsimikas and Joel Matip collided with each other at the back post.

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What really irked Klopp though was that the goal came in the same phase of play as Ollie Watkins forcing Alisson into a save from an offside position. The directive to delay the flag allowed the action to continue before Villa struck.

The irony of the situation is that Liverpool would have been better off had Alisson allowed the first shot from Watkins to beat him. If football’s lawmakers reconvene at some stage over the summer, the scrapping of the delayed offside flag should be first up on the day’s agenda.

Matip made amends moments later though when he stabbed home after Virgil van Dijk’s effort had been palmed into the six-yard box by Emi Martinez in the Villa goal.

Liverpool were dealt a potentially worrying blow when Fabinho was forced off around the half-hour mark. The Brazil midfielder went down holding the back of his right leg and was promptly withdrawn for Henderson. “He’s quite positive but I’m not sure what I can make of that,” was Klopp’s understandably vague update after the game.

Klopp sent on Thiago for Curtis Jones just after the hour mark in an effort to regain some control and composure in the middle of the park and the Spaniard had an inadvertent hand in Liverpool’s second when he blocked a clearance in midfield to start an attack. Diogo Jota then fed Luis Diaz whose cross was expertly glanced home by a virtually standing Sadio Mane.

Smoke filled the nostrils from a flare in the away end as Liverpool supporters made themselves heard. It felt like the game’s seminal moment. A rested Mohamed Salah was then summoned with 20 for Liverpool’s final sub as Diaz made way.

Danny Ings’ perpetual motion continued to cause problems and he thought he had rattled Villa level late on but this time the offside flag was raised and Liverpool had enough mental resilience to see it out, even if they were running on fumes by the end.

It may not ultimately be enough in their aim of hauling back City in the closing stages of this exacting, unyielding Premier League title race, but for now, the Reds can say they are keeping Pep Guardiola’s side on their toes until the very last. This is not over yet.

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