The first game back at their fortress after being crowned England’s finest saw a fresh ‘Liverpool FC – Champions Again’ banner perched high in the Sir Kenny Dalglish Stand, but this was not a showcase of champagne football from Jurgen Klopp’s men.
The Merseysiders had to claw their way to maximum points against relegation-threatened Aston Villa, with Sadio Mane’s decisive effort arriving on 71 minutes with teenager Curtis Jones cementing the win at the death.
The top-flight games against Dean Smith’s charges have not been poetry in motion, but they have fed into the club’s simple yet effective ‘just f****** win’ mantra.
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Klopp had pinpointed the reverse fixture with Villa as a pivotal moment in Liverpool regaining the title after a 30-year wait, with that November game emphasising the recovery and resilience of his “mentality monsters”.
Trezeguet had put the hosts ahead at Villa Park, before Andy Robertson and Mane struck with 87 and 94 minutes on the clock to wrestle a victory and maintain what was then a six-point lead at the summit.
Sunday evening’s encounter presented an opportunity for a different reaction after Liverpool’s 4-0 humbling at Manchester City and while it was the furthest thing from a swashbuckling statement, as the adage goes ‘there’s no comment section in the result’s column.’
Or as Mane put it in his post-match duties: “We pushed as a team until the end and created some chances. It wasn’t an easy game but at least we deserved these three points.
“I think sometimes you can’t expect always to score five or four against a good opponent. They were really organised and we were playing patiently until the gaps opened and we scored the two goals.
“For us right now it is most important to win games, then you can think about records.”
A first half that faded into nothingness, where the key influence on proceedings was the biting wind, was not the kind of offering anticipated from the division’s new kings.
Liverpool were expected to swagger onto their turf and leave Villa sprawled on it to exorcise the ghosts of the hammering by City just past.
Yet there was no venom, no identity of intensity and just a medley of overhit passes, misjudging the flight of the ball plus maddening decision-making.
Only five shots in total were managed by both teams in the opening 45 minutes, with more animation coming from a pre-match chat between John Terry, Villa’s assistant coach, and Klopp.
The Chelsea legend could be seen asking the 53-year-old about different tactical scenarios with the Reds boss taking time to break down the situations in detail. That proved more engaging that large swathes of this match that swung without nearly enough purpose and panache.
Villa carved the more problematic openings, with Alisson having to be alert to Jack Grealish’s creativity and palming away Anwar El Ghazi’s low shot.
They were also diligent without the ball, smothering and stifling the hosts. Liverpool, however, looked more themselves after a triple change on 60 minutes.
Klopp had opted for fresh legs in his starting line-up, giving Divock Origi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita a run out. The former two made way for Jordan Henderson and Roberto Firmino, with Fabinho also replaced by Gini Wijnaldum. A breakthrough felt inevitable and was born out of the best move in the match.
Space had been created for Trent Alexander-Arnold to venture into the centre of the pitch and he found Keita in the half-space. The Guinea international directed a ball across goal into Mane’s path and he swatted his effort in off the bar.
Liverpool had scored their first goal as league champions. And their second came courtesy of substitute Jones, fresh off a new five-year contract extension.
The 19-year-old was a driving force at the start of the move with Henderson playing in Andy Robertson. The left-back floated a cross beyond the far post, which Salah headed back towards Jones. He sorted his feet out quickly, with his shot deflecting off Tyrone Mings and into the net.
Alisson made a stellar save to thwart Grealish shortly after, the goalkeeper equal to everything they fired at him.
Liverpool are now unbeaten in 57 home league games, winning the last 24 in a row at Anfield while Villa – winless in nine in the division – cannon towards the Championship.
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