Liverpool snatched an incredible 2-1 win from the jaws of defeat at Aston Villa.
The unbeaten Premier League leaders came from a goal down to grab all three points in the final stages of a game that could have reduced their hard-earned lead.
For a third game across seven days, Jurgen Klopp’s men had their powers of recovery tested, and they’ve passed with flying colours ahead of next weekend’s mouthwatering duel with title rivals Manchester City at home.
Regarding the hosts, it was a cruel end to what could have been an incredible result, Dean Smith’s side went in front though Egyptian forward Trézéguet but Andy Robertson and Sadio Mane – deep into stoppage time – condemned them to another defeat.
As we catch our breath, here are five things we learned from this pulsating encounter.
1. How Lallana fared replacing Fabinho
The last few years has been a difficult one for Adam Lallana who must have wondered about his long-term Liverpool future. Injuries robbed the English midfielder from holding down a regular spot in Jurgen Klopp’s matchday squad, but he’s back now, and to many people’s surprise began his first Premier League game of the season.
His addition meant a place on the bench for Fabinho, who is one yellow card away from suspension. The Reds play Manchester City next weekend and it seems Klopp doesn’t want to go into that game without the Brazilian defensive midfielder. Lallana’s inclusion was like for like given he was used in the ‘number six’ position during the pre-season preparations.
Lallana, himself, revealed a month ago how he’d been studying his teammate in case a day like this came. So, all eyes were on the former Saints captain and whether he filled in seamlessly. Playing in between Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum, but operating deeper, Lallana would touch the ball on no fewer than 102 times; only newly crowned centurion Trent Alexander-Arnold (114) and Henderson (104) eclipsed him in that regard. Lallana would subsequently complete 76 of his 86 attempted passes.
Recycling possession is one facet of the role, but what about retaining it? Lallana, you could tell started nervously, would make five tackles and an interception before he was hauled off for Naby Keita with six minutes remaining. Chances are Fabinho would return next week even if Lallana put in a man-of-the-match performance, though.
2. Premier League uses the old ‘armpit’ defence…
Not a match goes by these days without the video assistant referee (or VAR) making headlines. This afternoon at Villa Park was no exception. Shorty after going behind Liverpool were desperate for a sudden reply and the visiting support felt that moment came when Roberto Firmino found the net. That effort was ruled out for offside by the linesman and after a VAR review elected not to overturn.
The decision resulted in the Premier League releasing a statement on Twitter arguing that Firmino’s “armpit” was “marginally ahead of the last Villa defender”. As you might expect, this did little to satisfy those with objections over the outcome.
Liverpool's Roberto Firmino was flagged offside before putting the ball in the net against Aston Villa and the decision was confirmed by VAR
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 2, 2019
Here’s just a selection of responses:
Loooooool VAR is rubbish, ruining football
— ً (@Auba_Laca8) November 2, 2019
that armpit really gave him an advantage.
— CamPepperr (@NotCammm) November 2, 2019
Glad that after 134 years of association football we’ve finally found a way to eliminate armpit advantage
— LFizzia (@LFizzia) November 2, 2019
So apparently you can be a armpit offside but you can block a shot on target with your hands in the box.
— Sam (@SamueILFC) November 2, 2019
Can’t remember last time I saw an armpit score
— Gee (@Gee_2b) November 2, 2019
3. Grealish absence felt?
There’s no question as to who Aston Villa’s most important player is. Jack Grealish, who Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola effectively described as priceless last weekend, has been the fulcrum behind their modest start to life back in the big time. His ability to draw fouls and win free-kicks deep into opposition half have been the cornerstone to Dean Smith’s gameplan.
The moment @Trezeguet opened the scoring! 👊🔥
— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 2, 2019
A calf injury sustained in the aforementioned City game would rob him from appearing at Villa Park this afternoon, meaning Anwar El Ghazi stepped in. However, their opening goal may have been a Grealish special as his partner in crime John McGinn won the set-piece that led to Egyptian winger Trézéguet breaking his Premier League duck.
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4. Another quiet away day
Following his first two seasons in a Liverpool jersey it comes as no surprise that a lot is expected of Mohamed Salah, who knows only consistency separates a good and great footballer. Although he’s registered five goals across his opening 10 league outings this season, the Egyptian winger in truth is operating below his lofty newfound standard, but that of course doesn’t necessarily mean Salah has been poor.
Saying that, all of those strikes have come at Anfield and it’s now five consecutive away trips he’s failed to register a goal. His only contributions on the road were assists in the wins over Burnley (3-0) and Chelsea (2-1). You have to go back to Newcastle in May for his last away goal, a game he infamously played 73 minutes due to receiving a nasty head injury.
5. Powers of recovery
Although they hold a commanding lead atop of the championship it has been anything but straightforward for Klopp’s men; heading into this weekend’s showdown in England’s second city, the Reds have gone behind in three consecutive Premier League matches, the most recent of which being last weekend’s 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur at home.
From those deficits they’d claw seven points back – two wins and one draw – making them the league’s best recovers alongside Leicester City; the Foxes have accumulated the same amount but have gone behind in an extra two games.
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) November 2, 2019
Klopp, as you’d expect, didn’t exactly look a man worried and that belief was vindicated when Andy Robertson levelled proceedings with three minutes left before Sadio Mane, deep into stoppage time, completed a remarkable comeback. All of this means they’ve now rescued 10 points from a losing position.
That is a total half of those participating in last season’s Premier League were unable to reach. Such incredible resilience bodes well as they attempt to end a 30-year title drought.