Steven Gerrard cut a frustrated figure following Aston Villa’s narrow 2-1 defeat to Liverpool last night knowing Jurgen Klopp’s Quadruple-chasing Reds were there for the taking. Douglas Luiz got Villa off to a flier three minutes in before the hosts were immediately pegged back by Joel Matip via some suspect defending while, with a little under half-an-hour to go, Sadio Mane scored his ninth goal in his 10 appearances against Villa to, in effect, win it for the FA Cup and Champions League finalists.
Gerrard, 41, outlined how his side “never kept the lead long enough” and “when the big moments came, we didn’t grab them”. Villa had good chances to push Liverpool back again through Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings but both failed to maintain their recent scoring form. Here, Villa writer Ashley Preece picks out his talking points with Crystal Palace up next on Sunday (May 15, 2pm).
A GLIMPSE INTO GERRARD’S VILLA
“We were ambitious tonight; we were brave, courageous and we went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the world,” Gerrard reflected in the media room. “They’ve got world-class players and they’ve been together for a long, long time. That was a massive challenge, a huge challenge and a big ask for my players but they haven’t let themselves down. I’m extremely proud of what they brought to the game.”
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The high-octane and relentless play we witnessed is exactly what Gerrard wants to build and see more of at Villa Park. The game plan was to, as the boss put it, “make it about their back four, play it down the sides and over” and to press and force Liverpool into errors. Fabinho, for example, struggled early on – and so did Alisson in goal. Gerrard wanted his side to really go at Klopp’s men last night – and they did exactly that.
BIG NAKAMBA FRUSTRATION
The affable Zimbabwean – in for his first Premier League start since early December – asked to be taken off having “ran out of steam”. Gerrard’s change, opting for Carney Chukwuemeka and shifting Douglas Luiz back in as a No.6 really harmed Villa with Mane’s winner – scored just three minutes after that very change – possibly not happening had Nakamba been on the pitch.
“The big frustration was that Marvelous Nakamba couldn’t carry on because he asked to be changed,” Gerrard revealed afterwards. “We knew he would run out of steam at some point and Douglas went into the middle and, obviously, the ball got stolen off him. Maybe with Marv that might not have happened but, look, it is what it is and we have to look after Marv and his body. That’s the most important thing. We’re disappointed with both goals we’ve conceded.”
It was Chukwuemeka’s short pass to Douglas that Liverpool jumped on for the winner while, for the first, that was another gift as Tyrone Mings failed to clear the initial ball in. How many times have we said it this season that Villa have simply gifted the opposition a goal or two? It’s something Gerrard wants to eradicate.
He added: “We need to try and cut out some individual moments that are really hurting the team against the big sides.” Villa’s record against the current top-five, if you didn’t know, is nine defeats from nine played. Yikes.
‘WE ARE TRYING’
Prior to kick-off yesterday and strong reports surfaced from Barcelona outlining how the Catalans had struck a €20million (£17million) deal with Villa to offload Philippe Coutinho at the end of the season. Gerrard was asked about that very development, and replied: “No [update] at the moment but I’ll repeat that I’m extremely keen to keep him here, permanently. I know that we’re all aligned at the club to try and do that but, in terms of an update, I don’t have an answer for you but we are trying.”
The head coach, meanwhile, is growing tired of the Coutinho-Emi Buendia questions that keep cropping up knowing, at present, it’s one or the other to play as Villa’s out-and-out No.10 behind Watkins and Ings. Last weekend, Buendia sparkled with a goal and assist showing at Burnley – only to be dropped for Brazilian Coutinho last night.
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“If I decide to go with one No.10, it is going to be one or the other,” Gerrard outlined. “I’ve shown that sometimes we play with two No.10s, sometimes one No.10 and one a little bit wider. I want that variety and I want that unpredictability in the front players. I’m delighted with both of them, I’m lucky to have them both. I hope I’ve got them both for longer. They’re two exceptional talents.”
Gerrard praised Buendia’s “fantastic little cameo” against Liverpool with the Argentinian enjoying more touches (21) than Watkins (19). It’ll now be fascinating as to who gets the nod against top-10 rivals Crystal Palace on Sunday.
CARNEY STANCE MADE CLEAR AGAIN
Staying with top talents and, for the second match running, Chukwuemeka was Gerrard’s first pick from off the bench. The 18-year-old is no closer to signing new terms but, again, Gerrard entrusted the England under-19 star to come on ahead of those with Champions League and international experience.
BirminghamLive quizzed Gerrard on Carney’s situation, and the head coach spoke well of the FA Youth Cup winner once again: “He’s hopefully going to be a big player for Aston Villa. We want him to stay here long-term. We believe it’s the right place for Carney and, again, myself and the staff have shown huge trust putting an 18-year-old in but we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t think he was ready, or have the ability not to cope.
“It was a good experience (vs Liverpool) and a learning one for him, being on the pitch around so much quality. So, yeah, I hope that situation progresses in a positive way. In training he’s been fantastic and I’ve said many times, if these young kids outtrain and deserve to go onto the pitch before people who are older, I’ll put them on!”
Chukwuemeka, who showed promise against the Reds, went close to prodding home Ings’ rebound but Alisson’s save just evaded him as Villa chased for an equalizer.
TOP-10 TO PLAY FOR
It’s back-to-back home games now just four days apart against Palace (May 15) and Burnley (May 19), prior to the season-finale at the Etihad. The carrot of a top-10 finish is still there for Villa knowing they remain just a point off Patrick Vieira’s Eagles in tenth.
Gerrard was asked just how good his Villa could be with a bit of fine-tuning, and his response was to the point: “[Liverpool performance] showed exactly where we are. There’s huge signs of progress. A lot of positives but, when we’re coming up against these sides, it’s moments that are hurting us. But I’ll go away in a positive place because there were huge signs of progress and I think you can see, quite clearly, where we want to take this.”
With a sprinkling of experience and top, elite-level quality added to Gerrard’s group over the summer then next season, for sure, bodes well.
JON MOSS HORROR SHOW
And lastly, the final word goes to one of the worst refereeing displays in recent memory at Villa Park. Jon Moss lost control of after around the 10-minute mark and kept getting decisions wrong. Liverpool were the big beneficiaries – and it rightly angered Gerrard, his players and the Villa Park faithful. It was just wrong and, thankfully, that was Moss’ final match knowing he’s set to retire at the end of the season. When told of Moss’ impending retirement, Gerrard smiled: “Good!” Villa, meanwhile, are expected to lodge an official complaint to the FA of Moss’ level of officiating last night.