Liverpool's run of six successive Premier League defeats at Anfield has come to a dramatic end, with Trent Alexander-Arnold's stunning winner beating Aston Villa 2-1.
The first half played it in an achingly familiar fashion. Liverpool saw a plethora of chances but failed to take them, before Ollie Watkins (43) fired Aston Villa ahead, having now scored four goals against the Reds in the league this season.
Liverpool thought they had equalised with the last kick of the first half, but Roberto Firmino's goal was ruled out for offside. Diogo Jota was the man penalised by VAR in another lengthy and extremely tight call.
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But Mohamed Salah's (57) tap-in early in the second half finally hauled Liverpool level and ended the Reds' run of 12 hours and 44 minutes without an open-play goal at home in the Premier League.
Aston Villa came closest to scoring next when Trezeguet (62) hit the post, but much like the end of the first half, there was late drama to finally break Liverpool's losing run. Alexander-Arnold curled home a sensational strike in injury time (90+1) - with England manager Gareth Southgate watching on from the stands.
The victory initially sent Liverpool into fourth, but ended Saturday in fifth after Chelsea's 4-1 win against Crystal Palace. It will also give Jurgen Klopp's side a huge boost ahead of their Champions League quarter-final second leg against Real Madrid on Wednesday.
For Aston Villa, they have been bumped down into 10th after Leeds' win against Manchester City earlier on Saturday, but remain five points from Tottenham in seventh, which could be enough to secure European football next season.
How Liverpool won their first home league game of 2021
Looking to exorcise some demons from the 7-2 defeat to Aston Villa in October, Liverpool began quickly at Anfield.
Salah had a golden chance to capitalise in the 13th minute, latching onto a loose ball after some poor control from Tyrone Mings. The Liverpool forward burst into the area, but some smart goalkeeping from Emi Martinez put Salah off enough to send his effort curling past the far left post.
Soon after, Firmino sent an effort wriggling wide from the top of the area. Ezri Konsa then had Aston Villa's first shot of the game in the 22nd minute, heading a Matt Targett free kick goalwards, but Alisson made the save.
Liverpool: Alisson (6), Alexander-Arnold (7), N Phillips (6), Kabak (6), Robertson (7), Wijnaldum (7), Fabinho (7), Milner (7), Salah (8), Jota (7), Firmino (7).
Subs used: Thiago (6), Mane (6), Shaqiri (n/a).
Aston Villa: Martinez (7), Cash (7), Konsa (7), Mings (6), Targett (6), Luiz (6), McGinn (7), Trezeguet (7), Nakamba (6), Traore (7), Watkins (7).
Subs used: Barkley (6), El Ghazi (6), Ramsey (n/a).
Man of the match: Mohamed Salah.
After a lengthy injury break following a knock to Douglas Luiz, Liverpool had two more glorious chances. Alexander-Arnold's direct free kick pinged off the top of the net, giving Liverpool a corner after Martinez got the slightest of touches onto it. Andy Robertson then delivered the corner, but Diogo Jota could only nod it over the crossbar.
But Watkins came back to haunt Liverpool once again as he fired Aston Villa ahead in the 43rd minute. It was some neat attacking play from the visitors, with John McGinn slotting the ball through for his team-mate. Watkins then found a yard around Ozan Kabak before firing home, with Alisson allowing the effort to slip through his fingers.
There was more drama to come, though. Firmino thought he had equalised just minutes later after scooping a Mings clearance into the roof of the net. However, VAR checked the goal for offside in two parts.
- Liverpool made two changes from the win against Arsenal. Thiago and Sadio Mane dropped to the bench, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Diogo Jota – rewarded for his two goals last weekend – coming into the XI.
- There were also two changes from the midweek defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League – Mane again one of the dropped players, along with Naby Keita. James Milner came back in, along with Jota again.
- Aston Villa also made two changes from their win against Fulham. Anwar El Ghazi and Morgan Sanson dropped out, with Trezeguet and Marvellous Nakamba in the starting XI.
The first was to see if Matt Cash had touched the initial pass from Alexander-Arnold before Jota collected. When it was deemed that he had not, VAR checked for a Jota offside, which was given after much scrutiny, and Firmino's equaliser was ruled out.
But 12 minutes after the restart Liverpool did equalise. Robertson's initial shot was palmed away superbly by Martinez, but Salah was lurking at the back post - just ahead of Mings - to turn home from close range. It was Liverpool's first home goal from open play in the Premier League in 765 minutes, since Sadio Mane netted against West Brom in December.
Aston Villa should have retaken the lead just after the hour mark. There was some superb play from Watkins down the left of the area, turning around Nat Phillips before tapping the ball back for Trezeguet. The midfielder then flicked the ball onto the post with a wonderful first touch, bouncing off the woodwork. He attempted to nod home the rebound, but sent the effort wide.
It continued as a rather even half, but it was a stunning strike from Alexander-Arnold to secure a much-needed home win for Liverpool. It was another superb save from Martinez in the build-up, pushing away Thiago's effort, and Anwar El Ghazi clearing only as far as the top of the area. Alexander-Arnold was waiting to hammer the ball sensationally into the net to secure the victory.
Man of the match - Mohamed Salah
Before the game, Graeme Souness told Sky Sports that not enough players had stepped up for Liverpool this season, but Salah certainly had a huge hand in Liverpool ending their horrendous home run.
Firstly, there was the equalising goal, which was Liverpool's first from open play at Anfield since 27 December. He was in the perfect position to tap home, now scoring in three successive games in all competitions.
He also topped the rankings for shots (7) from Liverpool's 23 attempts.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp: "It's a big one. Everybody told us, and it's the truth, that we had lost the last six home games, which is really not a nice number and not one we want to have.
"Then you play a first half like we played against a really strong Aston Villa side, dominate the game, create chances, but make one mistake and concede a goal for it. That's a shambles.
"Then in the next situation, we scored the equaliser but it's offside, I didn't see it back but maybe not for a lot. So you go in at half-time and as you can imagine, it's not the best mood of all possible moods.
"But the boys were OK and I didn't have to lift them too much because they knew if we continue with these things, keep the aggression and desire on that level, if you play football like we did, we would create chances again.
"But we have to score the goals for it, and it took a while, but then we scored them. That was massive and felt massive and it's really relieving.
"We defended well in a few situations and we were constantly in the creating mood… We had lots of shot on target, more than the last few games maybe and that's all good, but we needed that today. These three points feel really big."
Aston Villa manager Dean Smith: "I thought we deserved a point. Football is a funny game sometimes - I didn't think we were great in the first half, they were much better than us and we go in 1-0 up.
"In the second half, I think we were better ourselves, not better than Liverpool, but we created opportunities and restricted them to few, but you lose the second half 2-0 and that's sometimes what football is and what it does to you.
"I wanted an improvement in the second half and we got it. Unfortunately, we conceded two goals.
"A little bit of lapse in concentration [cost Villa], probably the killer instinct in the final third. We had some really good counter-attacking opportunities where we've created overloads, but the final ball hasn't been quite right, or the finish wasn't quite right. But we certainly got into those areas in the second half to kill the game off.
"It was another good performance from Olli, a good goal from him and that's four goals against the champions. It's not a bad return for him, but we're disappointed we leave here with nothing."
'Liverpool got away with it today'
Sky Sports' Graeme Souness:
"They did huff and puff at times. It was an effort for them, there wasn't that silky, free-flowing stuff that we were used to seeing from them prior to this season. I find it a staggering fact that they had not won at Anfield in 2021.
"They got away with it today, it didn't look the best of games, but it was a great finish. What he's doing in that position, you'll have to ask him, but it was a great strike to win the game.
"They were the better team, had most of the ball, most of the chances, but that clinical Liverpool we have seen for the last three years is not there for whatever reason, the intensity is not there.
"They can point to the full-backs not being the same, missing their two regular centre-backs, but they have become a team that no one wanted to play to a team that people will be looking forward to playing because they are vulnerable.
"The loss of Van Dijk has been enormous for them and Jordan Henderson in midfield - he's the catalyst for all the pressing and high energy and putting the ball under pressure at any opportunity. That's gone out of their game, I feel and they are huffing a puffing.
"It's been a difficult season for them… But they could end up having a great season and winning the Champions League. On any given night, Liverpool could, with the firepower they have, turn anyone over but when you play the very best teams, you are going to be asked to defend at some crucial times.
"This year, when they have been asked to do that, they have been found wanting."
Watkins shines vs Liverpool - Opta stats
- Liverpool have won a Premier League game via a 90th-minute winning goal for the 37th occasion, 12 more than any other side.
- Mohamed Salah has scored 28 goals in all competitions this season, his best return in a campaign for Liverpool since 2017/18 (44).
- Aston Villa's Ollie Watkins became the first player to score as many as four Premier League goals against Liverpool in a season since Andrey Arshavin in 2008-09.
- No player has scored more goals against reigning Premier League champions in a single season than Ollie Watkins vs Liverpool this season (4 - also Sergio Aguero v Chelsea in 15/16 and Harry Kane v Leicester in 16/17).
Liverpool are back in Champions League action on Wednesday, already trailing Real Madrid 3-1 in their quarter-final tie ahead of the second leg. Liverpool will then be back on Sky Sports for Monday Night Football on April 19, facing Leeds; kick-off 8pm.
Live Premier League
Aston Villa now have an 11-day break until their next game against Manchester City on Wednesday 21 April, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 8.15pm.