Liverpool beat Aston Villa: Five things we learned as Sadio Mane keeps title race alive

Aston Villa v Liverpool: Pictures

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Liverpool have kept the Premier League title race alive with a narrow victory over a spirited Aston Villa. Sadio Mane’s second-half winner has put the pressure back on Manchester City, with Jurgen Klopp’s side pulling level on points at the summit.

It was far from a vintage display from the Reds, with the Liverpool boss making five changes from the side who were held to a frustrating 1-1 draw in their last outing against Tottenham. Jordan Henderson, Mohamed Salah and Andy Robertson were among those to drop down to the bench, with Saturday’s FA Cup final clash against Chelsea clearly in Klopp’s thinking.

It was a frenetic start at Villa Park, with Douglas Luiz pouncing on a rebound to fire the hosts in front after just three minutes. However, this advantage proved to be short-lived as Joel Matip reacted quickest to a loose ball to level the contest three minutes later.

Steven Gerrard’s side continued to threaten throughout the contest, but in-form Mane continued his fine goalscoring form since the turn of the year to preserve Liverpool’s hopes of an unlikely quadruple. Express Sports takes a look at five things we learned as Klopp’s side were forced to dig deep for victory at Villa Park.

Coutinho audition

The former Liverpool playmaker made a red-hot start to his Premier League return, but his performances had dipped in recent weeks. Coutinho was rested during the weekend’s win at Burnley, but was recalled amid reports indicating a permanent summer deal is close to being agreed.

Social media was abuzz as the attacker left Trent Alexander-Arnold for dead in the first half, while there was a nutmeg on Virgil van Dijk shortly after the restart. However, it was otherwise another quiet night for the 29-year-old who was replaced by Emi Buendia in the 70th minute.

Defensive concerns

Klopp opted to change two of his back four, with Ibrahima Konate and Robertson dropping out with the Wembley date in mind. Joel Matip and Kostas Tsimikas came into the side, but it was an uncharacterisically nervy defensive display from Liverpool.

Luiz’s opener came about as the duo collided at the back post in an attempt to clear Lucas Digne’s cross to the back post, while Allisson was fortunate after a sloppy attempted pass to Fabinho almost handed Villa a second goal. Results are all that matters at this stage of the season, but Klopp will likely be concerned by the manner in which Villa were able to regularly find space and threaten.

Fabinho injury fears

Klopp has been forced to rotate in recent weeks during the Reds’ relentless pursuit of an unprecedented quadruple. However, there is no doubt Fabinho is the first-choice anchor in midfield, ordinarily lining up alongside Jordan Henderson and Thiago Alcantara.

It could therefore be a huge blow to see the Brazil international limp off after just 30 minutes following a collision with Coutinho. Fabinho was seen clutching the back of his leg as he left the pitch, casting serious doubt over his availability for Saturday’s FA Cup final clash with Chelsea.

Mane the main man?

The arrival of Luis Diaz in January was initially viewed as a threat to Mane’s future at Anfield, with the 30-year-old set to enter the final year of his contract. Instead, the Colombian winger has proven to be the catalyst for Mane to find his best form in a new role at centre forward.

It was Diaz who provided the assist for the decisive goal at Villa Park, with Mane calmly steering the header past Emi Martinez despite backing away from goal. It was the forward’s 12th goal in all competitions, and it was another vital strike which meant Klopp’s decision to rest Salah from the start was safe from scrutiny.

Title race continues

The impossible standards set by City and Liverpool in recent seasons means Saturday’s draw with Tottenham was seen as a stumble by the Reds. With three matches remaining, the title remains firmly in City’s hands with positive results against Wolves, West Ham and Aston Villa sealing a third league success in four seasons.

However, Liverpool’s resolute display at Villa Park means the margin for error remains slim for Guardiola’s side. Victory at Molineux on Wednesday would restore the three-point cushion, but a defeat in their final three matches could open the door for the Reds to snatch the title on goal difference.

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