Liverpool vindicated Jurgen Klopp’s risky rotation policy by doing just enough to beat wasteful Aston Villa

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Klopp demoted Mo Salah to the bench and Andy Robertson from the squad but Liverpool had enough to reserve to bounce back from Saturday’s disappointment

Sport Analysis

Liverpool vindicated jurgen klopp’s risky rotation policy by doing just enough to beat wasteful aston villa

Jurgen Klopp’s selection gamble paid off at Villa Park (Photo: Reuters)

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By Daniel StoreyChief Football Writer

Aston Villa 1-2 Liverpool (Luiz 3′ | Matip 6′, Mane 65′)

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VILLA PARK — This team has some bottle, make no mistake. They may have left it too late, and been a little too limp, to fully turn Saturday night’s match around at Anfield, but they rarely make the same mistake twice in a row. One pass is all it takes, this time swept into the box by the irrepressible Luis Diaz for Sadio Mane to clip a header home. A red flare was released in one corner of Villa Park; let’s call it a warning shot to Manchester City.

Liverpool will win better quality matches. They will play with more control time and time and time again and some of those games may not even end in victory. They will allow their opponents fewer clear chances than they did on Tuesday and concede more than once. But they will not care. After falling behind, Liverpool knew that City could secure the title before they played another league fixture. If you do nothing else, Klopp will say, make them wait.

Global Tech News Daily

The weekend draw with Tottenham put Jurgen Klopp in an awkward position. Win and he would have had no choice but to pick a full-strength team in the league. But with Manchester City holding the title in one hand, Klopp had an FA Cup final to consider.

Klopp hedged his bets. Thiago, Jordan Henderson, Ibrahima Konate and Andrew Robertson dropped out, while Mohamed Salah was rested to give Diogo Jota a start with Luis Diaz operating from the right. Cue the worst news: Fabinho holding the back of his hamstring and limping off in the first half. His participation in the two finals must surely be in doubt.

Liverpool’s rotation has been relatively seamless this season, changes coming in twos and threes. With five changes here, in the first half we saw why. It is not that any Liverpool player performed dreadfully – not at all. But there was a whiff of unfamiliarity about the component parts of a machine that typically operates as one whole.

Over a series of moments, you missed what was missing: Kostas Tsimikas turning back rather than Robertson pushing on; Curtis Jones twice shooting when teammates had their arms outstretched; Naby Keita thrashing at the occasional clearance, pass and, most notably, a shot when unmarked 12 yards from goal.

Klopp spent Saturday late evening explaining why he could never coach a team to be defensive, so he must have been mightily impressed by the intensity of Villa’s start. Ollie Watkins had already had a shot saved and Liverpool been thrice robbed of the ball in midfield before Lucas Digne’s cross found two Liverpool central defenders unusually uncertain of their positioning. Douglas Luiz had two bites and dined on the second.

The opening exchanges were gloriously frantic, neither side in control but both seemingly happy to react to their results of their mutual chaos. Trent Alexander-Arnold’s free-kick appeared comparatively harmless, slightly looped toward Tyrone Mings. Somehow he – and at least one more – Villa defender acted or thought out of turn. Joel Matip had scored exactly one league goal in each of his previous five seasons at Liverpool; he ruined that streak by stabbing in an equaliser.

The result of such chaotic games is inevitably determined by who keeps their head when it matters most. For all the stunning simplicity of Liverpool’s second goal, the equivalent of the perfect cheese on toast, Villa had plenty enough chances to take at least one point and probably three. For all the focus on Coutinho, booed throughout by the away support, they should thank another former player.

The signing of Danny Ings was hailed as a particularly savvy piece of business by Villa. He had scored 34 Premier League goals in two seasons at Southampton, and his service would surely improve at Villa Park. Ings’ success lay in his clinicality. Somewhere, that has got a little lost. His shooting accuracy and chance conversion have both dropped from last season to this, south coast to West Midlands.

The game’s crucial moments came in the aftermath of Liverpool’s winner, when twice Ings was sent through on goal and twice made the wrong choice. First he chopped back onto his left foot and was tackled. Then, to the groans and general chagrin of Villa supporters, his comically heavy touch allowed Alisson to gobble up the ball. Even when he finally scored, an assistant’s flag pointed out that he had run at least three yards offside.

These are the differences, fine margins between those who demand to be considered elite and those who demand to be the best of the elite. Klopp will accept that he took a leap of faith by changing half a team. He may accept too that his side dodged bullets and their own occasional lack of cohesion. But doubts and dithers can be solved with a smile. Now to go and win the one major trophy that has eluded this glorious generation.

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