Villa go down to Liverpool as Dave Woodhall ponders.
And so to the game that the media have been hyping up as Revenge, or possibly Retribution, depending on whether they believe their audience is capable of understanding words of more than two syllables. Liverpool are a bit of a strange team this season. They hadn’t won at home for a long while, look dreadful at times and the Liverpool of old occasionally and despite their inconsistent form they were still within reach of the top four at kick-off.
At least this time we knew well in advance that Jack Grealish was out and the only real surprise was the return of Marvelous Nakamba. Keinan Davis might have deserved a start after his impressive, maybe even game-changing, performance against Fulham although that would have meant either playing two up front or switching Ollie Watkins out wide. There are times when such a drastic change might be a good idea but Liverpool away, even allowing for their recent form, is perhaps not the ideal one.
Villa did alright in the first half, containing the home side and looking dangerous on occasion. Three minutes before half-time John McGinn’s short pass found Ollie Watkins on the edge of the area and our record signing’s fourteenth goal of the season paid back another bit of that fee. There should of course have been an equaliser before the break; a bad decision is a bad decision regardless of whether it’s for you or against. And I’m not talking about the offside but rather the decision to have VAR in the first place and make it so arbitary.
But Villa were in the lead at half-time and although Liverpool equalised on 57 minutes, still looked capable of holding on to at least a point with Trezeguet almost defying the laws of gravity, or perhaps physics, with a shot that hit the inside of the post and bounced back into play.
However, Dean Smith’s substitutions made the difference last week but they were less useful this time. Nakamba, who had been unimpressive all game, was replaced by Ross Barkley, who has been unimpressive since October, then two minutes later Bertrand Traore went off injured. Whether the first substitution would have been made if Smith could have foreseen what was going to happen almost immediately afterwards is unknown, and his cause wasn’t helped when Trezeguet was forced off with another injury late in the game.
Villa continued to hold on, then with the end in sight another fine reflex save from Emiliano Martinez saw the ball bouncing awkwardly. Matty Cash might have done better to leave it although his defender’s instinct took over and the subsequent clearance fell in just the wrong place.
Villa have lost more Premier League games to stoppage time goals than any other club, although then again we’ve probably lost more to goals at every other time as well. This wasn’t a bad performance and a bit more self-belief, or possibly a coat less varnish on the post, might have seen a win and another three points towards a European push. Instead, we can look back at another lost opportunity and further realisation that if Villa are to push on with the enormous improvements made over the past two years we have to stop persevering with players on the off-chance that they might re-discover the form they’ve occasionally showed. You can just about cope with one temperamental genius in the side, but four or five will get you nowhere.