The Lessons From Anfield
By Alex Martinez
A defeat in isolation at Anfield is no big deal, but Unai Emery’s Aston Villa had plenty of food for thought after succumbing to a 3-0 loss. With goals from Mo Salah and Dominik Szoboszlai, and an own goal from Matty Cash, providing Villa their second loss in three Premier League away matches. Are Villa not quite there yet and hindered by their injuries? After all, they showed a lot more resilience at Anfield last season.
The takeaways from the match included Villa’s high line being exposed yet again against a front three with fast and smart players. Villa had just 37% possession, allowing Liverpool to advance forward easily. As in the game at Newcastle, Villa failed to be clinical in front of goal again, registering six shots off target, and only three on target.
Attacking Momentum in the Game
Pau Torres Struggles
In his first proper test in a Villa shirt, Pau Torres has far from convincing. He was largely at fault for Liverpool’s first goal, as he dwelled too long on the ball, and was forced to concede a corner, from which Szoboszlai ultimately found the back of the net.
Torres’ 72% pass completion rate was a significant drop off from his previous gameweeks (91%, 90%, 94%), and there may be a reason for that. He was caught on the ball a few times, due to being pressed by Nunez and Salah, and couldn’t progress the ball as much as he has previously. He only managed one progressive pass, and had a progressive passing distance of 96 yards, the eight best in the squad, which is unlike him, as he registered 282 yards against Burnley.
The Spanish international had five take ons, with three of them being successful, and the other two resulted in him being tackled. He made no key passes, and all five of his long balls failed to reach the target. However, he had the joint most carries in the squad, but he had a progressive carrying distance of 188 yards, double what any other member of the team had.
Another player who underperformed was John McGinn. He had a 64% pass completion rate, the worst in the starting 11. This was very much an off day for a player that has largely impressed under Unai Emery. The Scottish international missed a key opportunity to get a goal back for Villa, after Liverpool scored their second goal, but saw his shot fly over the bar. Villa also failed to play him through in the channels, resulting in another reason as to why Villa struggled in the game.
He had the eighth lowest touches in the match, and had 22 carries and 72 yards, which were also both the eight lowest in the squad. He also failed to receive the ball a lot of the time, resulting in him being unable to turn players and find a ball to the forwards.
McGinn was having to lead the press, because Ollie Watkins wasn’t pressing, which is necessary for Villa’s high line to work.
Against Palace, hopefully we’ll see McGinn return to his normal self and have more influence on the game.
The main talking point from Emery’s tactical decisions was Diego Carlos limping off the pitch and being replaced in the 19th minute, and being replaced by Leon Bailey. Ezri Konsa shifted to centre-back, and Matty Cash went back to right-back, with Bailey slotting in on the wing. However, in the 65th minute, Bailey came off for Nicolo Zaniolo, much to the displeasure of Bailey, who stormed down the tunnel.
Speaking on this matter, Unai Emery said “It was a tactical decision. He played 90 minutes on Thursday, he played more or less 45 minutes. I decided that after 3-0 that we need to continue being consistent and practise something, playing with John McGinn and Moussa Diaby like we did in pre-season, but after some injuries we didn’t do it again.”
There was a case for Emery to change his high line to a mid-block or similar, like he showed against Burnley, but he opted against it. Liverpool continued to dominate the ball even in the second half, but the main reason was because of the midfield. There was no midfield domination, which resulted in the ball being played around Villa, leading to Villa getting the ball played around them and into the channels.
Was Youri Tielemans coming on to get an extra body in there to bolster the midfield, a better option? If Emery didn’t ultimately fancy the like-for-like swap of Clément Lenglet for Carlos?
It was hard to find positives in the game, but at least Jhon Duran showed in 30 minutes, he can offer a different look to Watkins (who Jurgen Klopp successfully neglected), and Nicolò Zaniolo showed glimpses of his talent throughout his 35 minutes on the pitch.
Some parts of the Emery revolution are still in transition and need games to develop, which the busy calendar ahead with the additional Europa Conference League games, will certainly give the Villa boss.
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