Aston Villa talking points from a somewhat plucky 3-1 defeat to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool with Unai Emery enduring mixed emotions from his first Premier League defeat as Villa boss
Unai Emery was left cursing after his first defeat in the Premier League since taking over at Aston Villa. Goals from Mo Salah, Virgil van Dijk and a late Stefan Bajcetic strike won it for Liverpool on Boxing Day despite a second-half rally from Villa after Ollie Watkins pulled a goal back not long after the restart.
Here’s the talking points the morning after the night before as we now wave goodbye to 2022 and look ahead to Tottenham on New Year’s Day in six days’ time…
MIXED EMOTIONS FOR EMERY WHO DEMANDS MORE
We’ll start with the manager and, according to those in the tunnel after last night’s 3-1 defeat, Emery stormed off into his office, clearly enraged by the manner of Villa’s defeat. Liverpool were there for the taking with the home side great value immediately after the restart.
“I’m happy with the attitude but disappointed with the result,” was Emery’s reflection afterwards. “We deserve more from the 90 minutes. But only if we were a bit more accurate. We decided to keep the game plan at half-time and we just needed one goal and we knew we’d have chances. Liverpool were dangerous on the transition, though, which was where their third goal came from which finished it.”
Emery also spoke about “tactical issues individually and collectively” and wanting to improve “for the step up I want to make”.
Tyrone Mings, speaking afterwards, agreed that the players are still learning Emery’s way of playing, and said: “I think we’re learning what the manager wants in different positions, different phases, we’re starting to see little bits of it.
“We’re a long way off but we’re a team of individuals who want to learn and work together. It’s frustrating because we didn’t manage to put the ball in the net as much as we’d have liked but that’s not me saying the attackers need to be better because like I said we should’ve defended better.”
The signs, though, are encouraging given Villa’s stark improvements since Emery’s appointment. Taking six points from Manchester United, Brighton and Liverpool isn’t bad going.
TOO MANY HAVE OFF NIGHTS
Despite pushing Liverpool close for large parts there were one too many off nights from those in claret and blue which, of course, aided Liverpool’s cause. “I think we conceded some poor goals,” Mings told Amazon, “they’re a fantastic team but every team, if you give them that amount of chances, they’re going to score at some point.
“It’s frustrating on our behalf. I don’t think it was a case of them being too strong for us, I think we maybe should’ve defended better for the goals.”
Liverpool, who posted an xG of 3.51 last night, carved Villa open far too often with Mings and Ezri Konsa both far from happy with Douglas Luiz and Boubacar Kamara in front of them.
However, from the usually ever-dependable Ashley Young to Leon Bailey and from Emi Buendia and Villa’s two centre-backs, too many didn’t perform to the level we all know they can.
EMERY TWISTED TOO LATE
“No,” was Emery’s quick reply if he thought he made changes a little too late. Jurgen Klopp made four substitutions before Emery’s triple change and, for their match-clincher, two of Klopp’s substitutes combined as Joe Gomez pumped it long for Darwin Nunez to chase before Bajcetic finished through Mings’ legs.
Villa’s bench had a good look to it last night – and it was arguably stronger and more experienced than what Klopp had – but perhaps Emery twisted a little too late with just five minutes remaining, especially given some of the rustiness that was on show.
Looking ahead to January now and it’s clear Emery will strengthen his squad. The boss wants real quality added in the final third of the pitch and to bring in those capable of becoming match winners. Villa spurned chance after chance yesterday evening which was one of the main reasons why Emery was a picture of pure frustration on the touchline, seen often waving his arms and grimacing with Villa wasteful in decent areas. January will be a busy month for Villa with as many as three or even four new arrivals expected while there will be a few who’ll head out.