Photo via Peter Powell
Liverpool came into Sunday’s match at Aston Villa undefeated to start the season with wins over Leeds United, Chelsea and Arsenal. They were expected to take care of business against a club who barely survived the Premier League last season thanks to a late 1-0 win over Arsenal. Villa bolstered their squad with new additions in former Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, Chelsea-loanee Ross Barkley who made his Villa debut on Sunday, and former Brentford striker Ollie Watkins. Liverpool did not take care of business as all three players made massive impacts on Villa’s historic 7-2 win.
Villa kicked things off with a goal from Watkins in the fourth minute after a blunder from backup Liverpool goalkeeper Adrian. Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino had three chances to score in the next 20 minutes, but his shot attempts were either saved by Martinez or blocked by Villa’s backline.
One reason Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and the Premier League title last season is their stout backline who conceded the fewest goals last season. After three goals conceded against Leeds, this was called into question. Against Villa, their performance displayed a possible downfall in the quality of the defense.
In the 23rd minute, Watkins dribbled past centre-back Joe Gomez for a second goal of the match.
After a great save from Martinez on Diogo Jota’s shot, Barkley missed an open chance to make it 3-0. Liverpool cut into the lead in the 33rd minute as Mohamed Salah smashed a shot by Martinez. A minute later, Adrian made a great save on Barkley’s shot attempt. On the proceeding corner kick, Barkley set up a volley from midfielder John McGinn, whose shot was deflected off superstar centre-back Virgil Van Dijk past Adrian to give Villa a 3-1 lead.
Barkley continued to make a strong impact on the match as his free kick set up Trezeguet’s cross to Watkins, who buried it to complete his hat-trick in the first half. Aston Villa went into halftime up 4-1.
Villa continued to pour it on as Barkley scored a phenomenal left-footed curler to give Villa a commanding 5-1 lead. Salah cut the lead 5-2 with another great goal but Villa would soon deny Liverpool and chance to claw their way back in the match.
Captain Jack Grealish, who already has three assists in the match, got on the score sheet after his shot deflected off Fabinho to give Villa a 6-2 lead. After Adrian saved Watkins in the 72nd minute, Barkley would deliver a great through-pass to Grealish in the 75th minute who put it away to give Villa the 7-2 lead. They held this advantage and picked up the shocking victory. Watkins finished with three goals and one assist, Grealish finished with two goals and three assists, Martinez had six saves; all while losing the possession battle 70-30%.
This was significant for multiple reasons. First, Villa is now second in the early Premier League table despite not playing the first matchday. With wins over Sheffield United and Fulham on top of Sunday’s win, Villa is now 3-0. Also, this was the first time the Premier League champions have ever conceded seven goals in a match. On top of this, it was the first time since 1963 Liverpool conceded seven goals in a match.
When looking at this match, there are two major conclusions I can draw from this. First, Villa took Liverpool and the rest of the Premier League by surprise on Sunday. They looked as great as any club has this season and it does not appear it will be a fluke going forward. After facing relegation a few months ago, Villa is playing with house money and looks much improved. Watkins gives the club a legit scoring option to pair with Grealish in the attack, taking the pressure off the captain to score in bunches.
Also, Barkley looked phenomenal in his Villa debut. He set himself up with great chances while making incredible passes to set up several Villa goals. He was the ultimate difference maker in the match, showing why Villa acquired his services on loan from Chelsea. On top of this, Martinez continues his strong start to the Premier League season with nine saves on 11 shots on goal, including a penalty save versus Sheffield. All three additions combine to make Villa a club no one should take lightly this season.
The other main takeaway is Liverpool’s defense has weakened since winning the title last season. They conceded four goals against Manchester City and three goals against Chelsea in July and have conceded a combined 10 goals in matches this season vs Villa and Leeds. Missing goalkeeper Alisson Becker hurt against Villa as Adrian made multiple blunders but the backline deserves most of the blame for this performance. They have not been as technically sound as we are used to seeing and are getting blown past by younger and more athletic attackers. Giving up those deflected goals are unlucky but also show a lack of awareness and positioning. Clubs can exploit this down the road and manager Jurgen Klopp must adjust if they are to live up to their high expectations this season.
Aston Villa will face Leicester City on October 17 while Liverpool faces cross-town rival Everton in the Merseyside Derby the same day.