Liverpool 1 – 1 Aston Villa. Roberto Firmino scored an 89th-minute equaliser against Aston Villa to keep alive Liverpool’s faint hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Jurgen Klopp’s side are three points behind Newcastle United and Manchester United with one game remaining, meaning their two rivals need just one point from their final two games to secure Champions League qualification for next season.
The fact it remains mathematically possible, if perhaps unlikely, is down to the departing Firmino sneaking in at the near post to convert Mohamed Salah’s low cross.
It was tough to take for the visitors, who were so close to claiming a notable win after an impressive display.
They had a golden opportunity to lead midway through the first half when Ibrahima Konate tripped Ollie Watkins in the box, but the striker sent his penalty wide.
Unai Emery’s men continued to push forward and grabbed a deserved first-half opener through Jacob Ramsey’s sweet guided volley at the back post from Douglas Luiz’s cross.
Liverpool – with Klopp watching from the stands as he begins his touchline ban – improved thereafter and thought they had equalised when Cody Gakpo converted following a scramble, but the effort was ruled out for offside in the build-up.
Villa maintain their European aspirations by moving up to seventh after the draw, but missed out on going sixth as a result of the late equaliser.
This was a costly two points dropped by Liverpool, who really needed to win after Manchester United edged to a victory against Bournemouth that may be the key to sealing a top-four place.
The Reds came into the contest on the back of a resurgence in form, winning their last seven league games to spark hopes of playing in Europe’s elite club competition next season.
But they trailed for a large part of the game against Villa and needed the intervention of substitute Firmino, who set the place rocking with his leveller in front of the Kop.
The Brazil forward will leave the club at the end of the season and has provided plenty of memorable moments in a red shirt – but he and his team-mates could not find a winner despite 10 minutes of added time.
James Milner was also given a generous send-off in his final game at Anfield at full-time but Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who are also leaving, missed out through injury.
The goal was Liverpool’s 99th in all competitions this season but their problems have been at the back as they again failed to keep a clean sheet and conceded a 43rd goal in the 2022-23 Premier League – the most in a full campaign under Klopp.
Luis Diaz headed wide in the best chance of a poor first half, while Salah and the in-form Trent Alexander-Arnold both fired straight at Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez before Firmino’s late intervention.
Villa executed their gameplan to perfection and were on the verge of a famous victory before Firmino pounced.
The visitors defended stubbornly while also posing a threat on the counter-attack and despite the disappointment of the equaliser, they have guaranteed themselves a top-10 finish for the first time in 12 years.
Emery has done a superb job as manager since replacing Steven Gerrard, long ago moving past the mandate of keeping the side in the league to becoming European contenders.
They took the lead through Ramsey’s delightfully placed finish and could have gone 2-0 ahead had Alisson not stood tall to deny the midfielder a second. The Brazil goalkeeper also gathered a low shot from John McGinn.
Villa may have been lucky not to go down to 10 men in the first half though, when defender Tyrone Mings caught Gakpo in the chest with a high challenge and the video assistant referee decided the yellow card awarded by the referee was sufficient punishment.
Villa have now won just one of their last 11 games against the Reds – the famous 7-2 victory at Villa Park under Dean Smith – but this game showed the enormous progress the side has made under Emery.
source – BBC