Despite a spirited effort, Aston Villa suffered defeat to Liverpool on Boxing Day as Unai Emery looks to bounce back from his first league loss in charge.
Goals from Mo Salah and Virgil van Dijk saw the visitors take a 2-0 lead into half-time, and although Ollie Watkins reduced our deficit on the hour mark, we were unable to find another as the Reds eventually killed the game off in the latter stages.
While there was frustration with our performance in the first half and the way we conceded, we improved significantly after the break and had a long spell on top where we needed to take our chances and be ruthless.
Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t to be, and so although there is disappointment with the result, Emery can certainly take more positives away from the game and build on those as we prepare to face Tottenham on New Year’s Day.
Emi Martinez, Cash and Ramsey absences felt
Whether it was our defensive lapses and not having enough pace at the back or a lack of running and movement off the ball into dangerous areas, we missed the presence of Emi Martinez, Matty Cash and Jacob Ramsey in the starting XI.
The trio make a big difference to our play both with and without the ball, with Martinez’s distribution much better as well as his organisation of the backline, while Cash is a solid defender and can get up and down the right wing more than Ashley Young.
Ramsey’s ability to arrive in the box and offer a goal threat as well as his penetrating runs with and without the ball was a real miss, and that in turn made it harder for the likes of Emi Buendia to unlock Liverpool’s defence.
That said, we still had enough chances in the game to get something from it, but with our key trio missing, it was undoubtedly a harder task.
Olsen struggles a concern
While he did produce some key saves, Robin Olsen is doing little to convince that he is a reliable second option between the posts when Martinez is absent.
With Villa wanting to play out from the back, there is an air of anxiety and uncertainty with Olsen as he often gave possession away, while his indecision not only causes problems for his defence but he makes life more difficult for himself.
Time will tell if Emery sees it the same way or if he will adjust his style when Olsen is playing, but ultimately it looks as though we need an upgrade in that area of the squad.
Watkins needs to be more clinical, consistent
As he showed with his goal and his finish that was ruled out for offside, Watkins knows how to find the back of the net and he has quality to go with his crucial work ethic and movement off the ball.
However, Villa need him to be so much more ruthless when he gets opportunities as we’re creating chances but not putting them away, and that will hurt us in most games but certainly against the top teams.
Having got a goal, it’s hoped that’s the boost in confidence he needs and he can start to put together a run of goalscoring form. That goes for all of our attacking options too though as we can’t just rely on him as if we don’t improve, that will surely be an area Emery will look at next month.
Kamara a star in midfield
Particularly in a 20-minute period in the second half where he was dominant in midfield for us and wouldn’t let Liverpool escape our pressure, Boubacar Kamara emerged as a standout performer for Villa.
We didn’t see the best of his blossoming partnership with Douglas Luiz in this one as the pair struggled at times to limit Liverpool’s attacking threat, but Kamara showcased his class as the game went on.
Whether it was his ability to press aggressively and win back possession or his reading of the game to step across and break up Liverpool’s play, he combines that so well with an ability to play quick passes into good areas to break the lines and we certainly need to make the most of the talent that he brings to the team.
Emery getting ideas across, improvement clear
Emery didn’t hide his disappointment after the game as the Villa boss was adamant that our performance deserved something more but we were just missing quality in key areas and moments.
Let’s not forget that this was a world-class Liverpool side that we competed with, and whether it was the consistent ability to create chances or how we eventually got a foothold in the game and controlled it in the second half, there were big positives to take.
Emery’s style of play and philosophy is coming across as we saw with our clear effort to play on the ground and patiently build our attacks with incisive passes between the lines rather than playing long balls and hoping for the best. There are still big improvements to be made no doubt, but there is progress and we’ll certainly give any side problems if we play like that and tidy up a few key aspects of the performance.