It is one of the most surprising Premier League scorelines ever: defending champions Liverpool hammered 7-2 by Aston Villa.
“All the things you should not do in a football game, we did tonight,” said Jurgen Klopp. But how did it happen?
With the help of the players and managers involved, as well as our Sky Sports pundits, we try to explain the extraordinary result at Villa Park and what it means…
The seeds of Liverpool’s night of misery were sown before a ball had been kicked when goalkeeper Alisson went down with a shoulder problem on Saturday.
“There was an incident in training,” explained Klopp before the game. “Very unlucky two players clash in training, one gets up, one doesn’t. We have to do further assessment. We hope it will go really quickly, we’ll have to see week by week.”
Adrian deputised and it was his poor pass that allowed Watkins to open the scoring.
It set the tone and Jamie Carragher believes the importance of the goalkeeper cannot be overstated.
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“When I think of how many high-scoring games that Jurgen Klopp’s early Liverpool teams were involved in, that all changed when the goalkeeper and the centre-back came in,” said Carragher.
“Possibly more with the goalkeeper in some ways. The difference that a top goalkeeper makes is absolutely huge. Klopp and Pep Guardiola would not have won Premier League titles without the goalkeepers that they have got. They had to buy those goalkeepers to take them to the next level and win titles.”
There was no denying that Adrian was culpable for Villa’s first goal but Klopp was more concerned by the reaction of his team than the individual mistake.
“The first goal had obviously today an impact, but it shouldn’t,” said the Liverpool boss afterwards.
“We can say Adrian made a mistake, yes, it’s obvious. But we’ve conceded goals like this in the past. Maybe not exactly like that, but the reaction was not good. We then lost the plot.”
Gomez’s night to forget
Joe Gomez struggled more than most, continually caught out by Watkins. Eventually, the England international was substituted with Fabinho dropping back into defence and Carragher would not be surprised if that is the plan for the Merseyside derby when the Premier League resumes after the international break.
“I just wonder about it going forward with the performance of Gomez and the performance of Fabinho at Chelsea,” said Carragher.
“Certainly, with Henderson to come back in, you would expect Thiago to come back in. For the Everton game, you wonder if it would be something they would stick with.
“Maybe take Gomez out for a couple of weeks and give him a breather. He has done brilliant for Liverpool, no doubt. But you just think since they came back, a few goals conceded since the restart, the Leeds game, you cannot forget about that, and here tonight.”
Liverpool’s high line to blame?
Gomez’s attempts to play the offside trap allowed Villa in behind, with Trent Alexander-Arnold also caught out after the break. For Carragher, it has been a worry for some time.
“The high defensive line was ripped to shreds against Leeds,” he added. “The same has happened here. It has been even worse. It is difficult to criticise a team whose defensive record has been so good. But I just don’t feel comfortable watching it when I look down.
“I am not talking about a high line, I am talking about trying to play offside. It is OK playing a high line, condensing it, making the team compact, winning the ball off the opposition. But when they are getting closer to your back four and midfielders are on it, I am not even saying run back 20 yards, I am just saying be ready to run back. Get on your bike and run back.
“They just hold the line and wait for the flag.
“This team play high up the pitch and maybe sacrifice one big chance per game with the opposition going through on goal but they look at the benefits of actually winning the ball because they press so high. You can accept it once a game but this felt like they were going to score every time they attacked. That press was not there.”
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Graeme Souness agreed that it was the failure to press that left the defence exposed.
“A big thing is going to be made about them holding a high line,” said Souness. “That isn’t going to change. Liverpool will always hold a high line. All the big teams hold a high line. But you can only hold a high line when the rest of the guys in the team are putting the ball under pressure.
“The minute they’re not putting the ball under pressure, you have to start retreating back towards your own goal. Liverpool’s problems started and ended with them not putting the ball under enough pressure. Keita didn’t do the job tonight. The ones who replaced him, didn’t do the job tonight.”
Klopp agreed that it was a problem.
“We can defend the gaps much better than we did tonight,” acknowledged the Liverpool boss. “But if you don’t speak, you can’t defend it, that’s not possible. We can defend the balls in behind much better, we do usually by pressing the guy with the ball. We didn’t do that.
“The problem for that was we lost the ball really in the wrong moments. The protection was really, really bad.
“Last week, Mr Keane said we defended sloppy. Tonight, it was not sloppy, it was just bad! I have to admit that.”
Bad luck with deflections?
As with any freak result, there were some freak goals. Three of Villa’s seven were deflected.
John McGinn’s shot took a wicked deflection off Virgil van Dijk, wrong-footing Adrian, Ross Barkley’s strike looped in off Alexander-Arnold, while Jack Grealish’s shot deflected in off Fabinho and sent Adrian the wrong way.
Klopp was not so sympathetic.
“Yes, we conceded deflected goals. Maybe one or two were unlucky but it’s as well a not properly blocked ball. It means our fault as well. Nobody to blame apart from us.”
Some Villa magic…
Three of the goals might have been deflected but that does not explain the other four.
Watkins had not scored a Premier League goal before this match. Now he has three. A perfect night and a perfect hat-trick – left foot, right foot and header.
“I think when the first one went in, I pinched myself a little bit as it was so early on,” he told Sky Sports.
“I’m just delighted I could contribute, and we won. It’s unbelievable.
“Before the game, I wouldn’t think I’d score three goals. But I got a bit of confidence and I should have scored more in the end. The game plan was to get in behind them. We fancied ourselves but we didn’t think the scoreline would be that.”
Barkley was excellent on his Villa debut, while Grealish looked capable of carving Liverpool open at will. This was a stunning performance from Dean Smith’s side that maintains their 100-per-cent record. Remarkable.
Any other explanation?
Liverpool’s defeat came on the same day that Manchester United were beaten 6-1 at home by Tottenham and just one week after Manchester City’s 5-2 defeat to Leicester at the Etihad Stadium.
It suggests something strange is happening in the Premier League. Are teams suffering from fatigue given the lack of a proper pre-season and is this causing more unpredictable results?
“It’s like they can’t run in this game,” said Carragher on co-commentary. “We know that’s not the case, so you scratch your head for reasons why.
“There’s so much wrong with the whole team performance, really. It’s really slow, this team that’s so energetic against Chelsea and Arsenal, completely ran them off the pitch.”
Van Dijk could offer no explanation.
“It just felt like one of those performances where we just weren’t 100 per cent at it from the start until the finish,” he told Sky Sports.
“The goals we conceded, we should have done better, but also the chances we had – because we had many – we should have done better. Our preparation was good. We were ready for it before the game, but unfortunately in the game it didn’t happen how we wanted it to.”
What does it mean for the title race?
All of which means that just hours after many were convinced that the Premier League title race was over already and no team could hope to get close to the reigning champions, Liverpool were demolished.
The others have hope.
“There was a game last season, early on, where Man City drew with Spurs – it was 2-2 – and it felt like a huge result for the Premier League because at that time City, you felt, who can stop them, who can beat them,” said Carragher.
“Obviously we know Liverpool went on to win the title last season.
“The feeling after the first three games [this season] was who are going to stop Liverpool, they’re going to run away with it.
“This might actually be a good result for the Premier League, as such, give people hope, belief they can still go on and win this league. Certainly Man City – who could have been eight points behind Liverpool after this today – this gives them great belief.
“Maybe Liverpool’s neighbours are getting a bit excited, obviously with a derby game. They’ve made a great start to the season.
“But I still believe there’s only two teams who can win it. The quality they have, Man City and Liverpool. They’ve been there before. But it maybe just gives everyone hope and belief they can beat Liverpool, they can stop them maybe going on to retain the title. That’s what bad defeats do.”
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