Re­silient Liver­pool tire out Villa on way to City chal­lenge

Two late strikes break Smith’s spir­ited de­fence Lal­lana: We have just got that mo­men­tum

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - At Villa Park

It was a goal that trav­elled all the way from Villa Park and up the M6 into Pep Guardi­ola’s brain, and has drawn the bat­tle lines ahead of Sun­day’s huge en­counter be­tween the Pre­mier League ti­tle con­tenders.

Sa­dio Mane’s bril­liant header deep into Klop­page time en­sured Liver­pool will face Manch­ester City at An­field with their six-point lead in­tact, but it was Guardi­ola’s post­match com­ments that will dom­i­nate the build-up.

Mane had swung the game in Liver­pool’s favour against As­ton Villa with an as­sist and the win­ning goal – yet as he climbed aboard the team bus on Satur­day even­ing he was be­ing ac­cused by Guardi­ola of “some­times div­ing”.

The Sene­gal for­ward had been booked in the first-half against Villa for sim­u­la­tion, fall­ing the­atri­cally un­der an in­nocu­ous chal­lenge in the penalty area from Fred­eric Guil­bert, and that mo­ment had ob­vi­ously been re­layed back to the Eti­had Sta­dium.

It was clearly a pre-med­i­tated snipe from City’s man­ager that will prob­a­bly gal­vanise the An­field crowd and be used as am­mu­ni­tion in Jur­gen Klopp’s dress­ing room.

Guardi­ola’s re­marks emerged too late to be brought to Klopp’s at­ten­tion on Satur­day, but he in­sisted the po­ten­tially piv­otal game this week­end was far from his thoughts.

He said: “I never thought for a sec­ond about the Man City game and the As­ton Villa game to­gether. I never thought, ‘OK, you should win that, be­cause maybe we lose next week and then we are on a level or what­ever.’ I didn’t ask [about the other re­sults], it was not too im­por­tant. We play Genk [in the Cham­pi­ons League] and then we play Man City.

“Yes, it’s im­por­tant, away at As­ton Villa, the way they set up, re­ally im­por­tant, re­ally dif­fi­cult – but we did it, and that’s good. And now we have to again col­lect the bounce and pre­pare for the next chal­lenge, Genk.”

Liver­pool have now won 19 of their last 20 league games and this dra­matic fi­nale must have felt like a punch in the guts for Guardi­ola.

They had been poor for an hour, fall­ing be­hind to Trezeguet’s firsthalf goal and curs­ing a ridicu­lous de­ci­sion from the video as­sis­tant ref­eree for rul­ing out Roberto Firmino’s equaliser as his armpit was off­side.

But the come­back be­came more in­evitable as their in­ten­sity-lev­els in­creased, with Andy Robert­son head­ing in an 87th-minute lev­eller be­fore Mane’s deft header from Trent Alexan­der-arnold’s cor­ner.

It means Liver­pool have now ac­crued Adam Lal­lana is emerg­ing as a tar­get for clubs in China and Ma­jor League Soc­cer, with his Liver­pool con­tract run­ning out this sum­mer. Lal­lana will be of­fered a new deal by Liver­pool but could be set for a move away in Jan­uary if clubs step up their in­ter­est when the transfer win­dow reopens.

The Eng­land mid­fielder made his first Pre­mier League start since March in the 2-1 win at As­ton Villa, step­ping in to re­place Fabinho who is one book­ing away from a ban. Liver­pool are ready to dis­cuss an ex­ten­sion but the 31-year-old is likely to be of­fered longer terms and the prom­ise of more reg­u­lar foot­ball away from An­field. eight points from five late goals against Le­ices­ter, Manch­ester United, Tot­ten­ham and now Villa.

Adam Lal­lana, the mid­fielder, be­lieves their re­silience makes any­thing pos­si­ble. “It’s al­most like a sixth sense,” he said. “Teams worry when it’s late.

“Of course, you can feel the crowd get­ting tense, that’s ex­actly what hap­pens when you get late goals and the mo­men­tum is there. It doesn’t sur­prise me that we got that sec­ond goal.

“We’ve just got that mo­men­tum, and the char­ac­ter is there in abun­dance. With the de­liv­er­ies and set pieces we’ve got in our team, we use it to our ad­van­tage. It’s such a weapon.”

It was a gut-wrench­ing fi­nale for Villa, who were dream­ing of their first home-win over Liver­pool in the league since May 2011. Many of their play­ers sank to the turf at the fi­nal whis­tle, bro­ken by the late come­back.

But af­ter spir­ited per­for­mances against City and Liver­pool in their last two games, Dean Smith’s Cham­pi­onship play-off win­ners have proved they be­long in this divi­sion.

This fa­mous old theatre was rock­ing and Ty­rone Mings, John Mcginn and Marvelous Nakamba were out­stand­ing in what was an ex­cel­lent team per­for­mance.

Af­ter back-to-back games against the two ti­tle con­tenders, Mcginn is per­fectly placed to as­sess their strengths.

“Liver­pool don’t give up, they keep go­ing – and they prob­a­bly tired us out too much right at the end. They are re­lent­less,” he said.

“It was the same with Man City last week, they just drain you men­tally. You try your best to press them, but they are top teams – and full credit to them.

“I’m gut­ted. But we’ve got to be proud of how we played, and if we play like that for the rest of the sea­son we’ll be fine. Maybe the next time they come call­ing we’ll be a bit closer.”

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