Steven Gerrard put on a frustrated figure after Aston Villa’s narrow 2-1 loss to Liverpool last night knowing Jurgen Klopp’s Reds quadruple were there for the taking. Douglas Luiz sent Villa a flyer three minutes before the hosts were immediately pushed back by Joel Matip via a defending suspect while, with just under half an hour to go, Sadio Mane netted his ninth goal in 10 appearances against Villa to, in effect, win it for the FA Cup and Champions League finalists.
Gerrard, 41, said his team “never held on to the lead long enough” and “when the big moments came we didn’t seize them”. Villa had a good chance of fending off Liverpool through Ollie Watkins and Danny Ings, but the two failed to maintain their recent scoring form. Here, Villa writer Ashley Preece pick their talking points with Crystal Palace next Sunday (May 15, 2 p.m.).
AN OVERVIEW OF GERRARD’S VILLA
“We were ambitious tonight; we were brave, brave and we faced one of the best teams in the world,” Gerrard said in the media room. “They have world-class players and they’ve been together for a very, very long time. It was a huge challenge, a huge challenge and a big demand for my players, but they didn’t let themselves down. I’m extremely proud of what they brought to the game.”
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The high-octane, relentless play we witnessed is exactly what Gerrard wants to build and see more of at Villa Park. The game plan was, as the boss put it, “to focus on their back four, play them wide and over” and press and force Liverpool into mistakes. Fabinho, for example, struggled early – as did Alisson in goal. Gerrard wanted his side to really go after Klopp’s men last night – and they did just that.
NAKAMBA’S GREAT FRUSTRATION
The affable Zimbabwean – on his first Premier League start since early December – has asked to be removed after he was “out of breath”. Gerrard’s switch, opting for Carney Chukwuemeka and replacing Douglas Luiz as No.6, really hurt Villa with Mane’s winner – scored just three minutes after that same switch – may not have happened. it not happened if Nakamba had been on the pitch.
“The big frustration was that Marvelous Nakamba couldn’t continue because he asked to be changed,” Gerrard revealed afterwards. “We knew he would run out of steam at some point and Douglas went in the middle and obviously the ball was stolen from him. Maybe with Marv it might not have happened but, look, that’s what it is and we have to take care of Marv and his body. That’s the most important thing. We’re disappointed with the two goals we conceded.”
It was on Chukwuemeka’s short pass to Douglas that Liverpool leapt for the winner while, for the former, it was another giveaway as Tyrone Mings failed to clear the initial ball. How many times have we said this season that Villa simply offered the opposition a goal or two? This is something Gerrard wants to eradicate.
He added: “We have to try to cut out some individual moments that really hurt the team against the big teams.” Villa’s record against the current top five, if you didn’t know, is nine defeats in nine contested. Yeah.
Ahead of yesterday’s kick-off, strong reports surfaced from Barcelona outlining how the Catalans agreed a €20m (£17m) deal with Villa to offload Philippe Coutinho at the end of the season. Gerrard was asked about this very development and replied: “No [update] for now, but I repeat that I am extremely keen to keep him here, permanently. I know we’re all lined up at the club to try and do that but, in terms of an update, I don’t have an answer for you but we’re trying.”
The head coach, meanwhile, is growing weary of the Coutinho-Emi Buendia questions that keep popping up, knowing that right now it’s one or the other to play in. as Villa’s number 10 behind Watkins and Ings. Buendia shone with a goal and an assist at Burnley last weekend – only to be dropped last night by Brazilian Coutinho.
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“If I decide to go with a number 10, it will be one or the other,” Gerrard explained. “I’ve shown that sometimes we play with two No10s, sometimes a No10 and a bit wider. I want that variety and I want that unpredictability in the front players. I’m delighted with both, I I’m lucky to have them both. I hope to have them both for longer. They are both exceptional talents.”
Gerrard hailed Buendia’s ‘fantastic little cameo’ against Liverpool, with the Argentine boasting more touches (21) than Watkins (19). It will now be fascinating to see who gets the green light against top 10 rivals Crystal Palace on Sunday.
CARNEY’S POSITION CLEAR AGAIN
Sticking with top talent and, for the second game in a row, Chukwuemeka was Gerrard’s first choice off the bench. The 18-year-old isn’t close to signing any new terms but, again, Gerrard has given the England Under-19 star a shot ahead of those with Champions League and international experience.
BirminghamLive asked Gerrard about Carney’s situation, and the head coach once again spoke well of the FA Youth Cup winner: “He will hopefully be a great player for Aston Villa. We want him stay here long term We think this is the right place for Carney and again myself and the staff showed great confidence in placing an 18 year old but we would not not if we didn’t think he was ready or didn’t have the ability not to cope.
“It was a good experience (against Liverpool) and a learning curve for him, being on the pitch with so much quality. So, yes, I hope the situation will progress in a positive way. In training he has been fantastic and I’ve said many times, if these young kids train better and deserve to get on the pitch before older people, I’ll put them on!”
Chukwuemeka, who showed promise against the Reds, nearly got Ings rebounding but Alisson’s save just slipped past him as Villa chased the equaliser.
TOP-10 TO PLAY
These are back-to-back home games just four days apart against Palace (May 15) and Burnley (May 19), ahead of the season finale at the Etihad. The carrot of a top 10 is still there for Villa knowing that they remain just one point behind Patrick Vieira’s Eagles in tenth place.
Gerrard was asked how good his Villa could be with a bit of fine tuning, and his response was straightforward: “[Liverpool performance] showed exactly where we are. There are huge signs of progress. Lots of positives but, when we come up against these teams, these are moments that hurt us. But I will be leaving in a positive place because there were huge signs of progress and I think you can see pretty clearly where we want to take that.”
With a pinch of experience and elite-level top quality added to Gerrard’s squad over the summer and then next season, it bodes well.
JON MOSS HORROR SHOW
And finally, the last word goes to one of the worst refereeing displays in recent memory at Villa Park. Jon Moss lost control after about 10 minutes and continued to make bad decisions. Liverpool have been the big beneficiary – and it has rightly angered Gerrard, his players and the Villa Park faithful. It was simply untrue and luckily it was Moss’ last game knowing he was set to retire at the end of the season. When informed of Moss’ impending retirement, Gerrard smiled, “Fine!” Villa, meanwhile, are expected to lodge a formal complaint at Moss’s FA arbitration level last night.