Mohamed Salah was on target as Liverpool bolstered their top-four hopes with a convincing 3-1 win at Aston Villa in their first Premier League match since the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Jurgen Klopp’s Reds took the lead on five minutes when Salah tucked home his 16th goal of the season after brilliant play from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson.
Villa had their moments in a gloriously open first 45 minutes, but Ollie Watkins and Leon Bailey failed to take advantage.
Liverpool then took control eight minutes before the interval when Virgil van Dijk steered home after Villa failed to deal with a right-wing corner.
Unai Emery’s side provided a strong response after the restart and Watkins reduced the arrears with a fine header just shy of the hour.
Darwin Nunez missed a series of gilt-edged openings in the first period for the away team and then dragged another big chance wide 12 minutes from the end. However, the Uruguayan’s persistence paid off soon after when his cross-shot was parried into the path of substitute Stefan Bajcetic, who side-stepped Robin Olsen before slotting home.
The result means sixth-placed Liverpool have won three top-flight matches on the spin for the first time this season and are now five points behind fourth-placed Tottenham with a game in hand. Villa stay 12th.
Next up, Liverpool host Leicester City on Friday while Villa travel to Tottenham on New Year’s Day.
Love him or hate him, Nunez is a nuisance you can’t ignore. The 23-year-old Uruguay international has split opinion since arriving from Benfica. He was a constant menace in this encounter and there’s no doubt he played a key role in the win. And yet, his performance was the talk of social media for much of the first period as he contrived to fluff a number of chances.
Klopp has previously spoken about working with the forward to help him make the most of his potential. He is certainly a raw talent that still needs time to make his mark in this league with opposition fans quick to mock some of the moments he’ll be keen to leave off his show reel. Nunez will feel he was unfortunate not to score at Villa Park, but if he continues to work on refining his finishing, he could yet develop into the striker Kopites are hoping for.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool). The full-back demonstrated all of his attacking guile, producing a sumptuous pre-assist for the opener to cap an all-action performance on the right. Cue more murmurs of why ‘Gareth Southgate should have made more use of him at the World Cup…’
ASTON VILLA: Olsen 7, Young 6, Konsa 6, Digne 7, Mings 6, Luiz 7, McGinn 8, Buendia 7, Watkins 7, Bailey 6, Kamara 6. Subs: Coutinho n/a, Dendoncker n/a, Ings n/a.
LIVERPOOL: Alisson 7, Matip 7, Alexander-Arnold 8, Robertson 7, Van Dijk 8, Fabinho 7, Thiago 6, Salah 8, Henderson 7, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6, Nunez 7. Subs: Elliott 6, Keita 6, Gomez 6, Bajcetic 7, Doak n/a.
05’ – GOAL! – Aston Villa 0-1 Liverpool. Salah tucks home Robertson’s first-time cross from the right after the left back was picked out by a sublime outside of the foot pass from Trent Alexander Arnold.
14’ – ASTON VILLA CHANCE! Bailey completely misses his kick six yards out after Villa had opened Liverpool up down the left with Buendia.
28’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Nunez latches on to a miscued clearance but sees his controlled volley well blocked by Olsen. It all came after Liverpool have survived a real melee inside their own area before springing forward.
37’ – GOAL! – Aston Villa 0-2 Liverpool. Van Dijk steers a lovely shot into the far corner after Villa failed to deal with a right-wing corner.
45+2’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Nunez somehow fails to guide a shot beyond Olsen after arriving on cue to meet a right-wing free kick.
59’ – GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool. Watkins nods a clinical header into the far corner from Douglas Luiz’s right-wing cross.
75’ – LIVERPOOL CHANCE! Nunez races clear to surely finish it off for Liverpool but lashes wide of the far post.
81’ – GOAL! – Aston Villa 1-3 Liverpool. Stefan Bajcetic shows great composure to side step the keeper and fire home after Olsen had parried Nunez’s rasping cross-shot from a narrow angle.