Liverpool delivered laboured to a 2-0 win against relegation-threatened Aston Villa, winning their 17th consecutive home game of the Premier League season.
Aston Villa proved to be obstinate opponents for the best part of 70 minutes until Sadio Mané neatly turned in the opener for the newly-crowned Premier League champions.
As Villa began to chase the game, Liverpool - reinforced by a trio of experienced substitutes - exploited the space opening up.
With one minute left to play, Mohamed Salah nodded down an Andy Robertson cross for another second-half addition, Curtis Jones, to add perhaps an undeserved layer of gloss to the scoreline with his first ever Premier League strike.
Key Talking Point
Another game, another guard of honour. ? pic.twitter.com/7ZHBHmycI7— 90min (@90min_Football) July 5, 2020
In their first game at Anfield as Premier League champions, Liverpool lacked the usual zip to their play as they struggled to work an opening against a stubborn Aston Villa side admirably rising to the battle against relegation.
After a stodgy hour, in which Villa arguably offered more threat, Jürgen Klopp turned to his bench, replacing Divock Origi and his freshly dyed blonde hair with the elusive figure of Roberto Firmino.
The Brazilian may have looked less than interested from his position in the stands but Villa struggled to pick him up after his introduction, tempting Villa's backline out of their rigid formation as Liverpool eventually found the net.
Roberto Firmino is the system.— Kloppholic (@Kloppholic) July 5, 2020
Firmino has made such a difference since coming on. Such an important player for us that a lot of other supporters won’t see because he doesn’t score every week.— - (@AnfieldRd96) July 5, 2020
Firmino has instantly made a difference.— Matt ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (@ElNino9Aleyenda) July 5, 2020
Liverpool Player Ratings
Starting XI: Alisson (8); Alexander-Arnold (6), Gomez (6), Van Dijk (7), Robertson (6); Oxlade-Chamberlain (5), Fabinho (6), Keita (6); Salah (6), Origi (4), Mané (8*)
Substitutes: Henderson (6), Firmino (7), Wijnaldum (6), Jones (7), Williams (N/A)
8 - Sadio Mané has had a direct hand in eight goals in his last five Premier League appearances against Aston Villa, with Liverpool's opener his sixth goal versus the Villans, whilst also laying on two assists. Blue. #LIVAST pic.twitter.com/Kf6SHITlx1— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 5, 2020
In an uncharacteristically lacklustre first half, Sadio Mané was one of the few driving forces in the Liverpool side, ever willing to pick up the ball and embark upon a direct run at Villa's goal.
In the second half, Trent Alexander-Arnold fired a ball into the feet of Naby Keita who in turn found Mané in a rare pocket of space six yards out, converting via the crossbar. The Senegalese forward - like the rest of his teammates - didn't enjoy his most sparkling outing, but another game-winning strike added further fuel to his bid for the Premier League's Player of the Season award.
Key Talking Point
Dean Smith's side - having seen Manchester City so mercilessly exploit it in midweek - tried to attack the spaces left by Liverpool's rampaging full-backs on the break.
In spite of their status as the Premier League's leakiest defence, Aston Villa's two banks of four stifled Liverpool throughout the first half, limiting the champions to some tenuous penalty appeals and just two shots.
The Villans even caught Liverpool short-handed at the back on two occasions in quick succession following the restart, only for Alisson to restate his claim to be Europe's greatest goalkeeper. Ultimately, Liverpool's strength saw them convert the few chances they were able to conjure as Villa's legs tired.
Aston Villa Player Ratings
Staring XI: Reina (6); Konsa (6), Hause (7), Mings (7), Taylor (6); El Ghazi (6), Douglas Luiz (7), McGinn (6), Trézéguet (5); Grealish (6); Davis (5)
Substitutes: Jota (5), Samatta (5), Vassilev (N/A)
Aston Villa's early resistance was largely down to the team's cohesion but a fitter, sharper Douglas Luiz has looked reinvigorated since the Premier League's return in June.
The Brazilian central midfielder proved to be a resolute obstacle in Liverpool's path in the opening 70 minutes and even caused a moment of faint anxiety when he crumpled to the ground in search of a first-half penalty - which was swiftly dismissed.
The 'Guard of Honour' evaluation continues for Liverpool as they face Brighton, Burnley, Arsenal and Chelsea in their next four fixtures.
Aston Villa's battle against the relegation mire doesn't get much easier with matches against in-form Manchester United, Crystal Palace, Everton and Arsenal on the horizon.
Source : 90min