The good, the bad and where does Salah rank? – Last word on Villa 1-3 Liverpool

    Liverpool had a good day at the office in their 3-1 victory at Aston Villa on Boxing Day, with three Reds supporters assessing an enjoyable festive win.

    Jurgen Klopp‘s side didn’t have it all their own way at Villa Park, but their quality ended up shining through in the end.

    Goals from Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk gave Liverpool a 2-0 half-time lead, before Ollie Watkins pulled a goal back and then Stefan Bajcetic put the game to bed.

    Here, This Is Anfield’s Henry Jackson (@HenryJackson87) is joined by Liam Togher (@liamtogher88) and Guy Drinkel (@guydrinkel) to dissect a fine Reds win and discuss where Salah now ranks among the greatest players in the club’s history.

    The good…

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Stefan Bajcetic celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Stefan Bajcetic celebrates after scoring the third goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    LIAM: First and foremost, an excellent result from a fixture which looked a real banana skin, especially with Villa having had a good start to life under Unai Emery.

    The full-backs have come in for criticism this season but both Trent and Robbo were superb, offering plenty in attack in what felt like a throwback to our 2019/20 pomp.

    Indeed, all of the defence were excellent, with Matip and Van Dijk combining to make a veritable brick wall when Villa were in the ascendancy.

    Nunez, despite his errant finishing, kept working diligently out of possession and continued to want chances even when things aren’t going in his favour.

    It would be very easy for players to shy away from the game when having the woeful luck that the Uruguayan has endured in his last two games.

    Indeed, had he not kept chasing a ball that looked destined to roll out of play, our third goal wouldn’t have happened.

    That brings us nicely to my highlight of the night, young Bajcetic getting his first Premier League goal, and it’s one to be proud of too as he took it with such composure.

    It’s probably safe to say that we were all absolutely made up for the lad, and let’s hope it’s the first of many.

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Fabio Henrique Tavares 'Fabinho' during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    GUY: The first good thing that jumped out to me in this game was the performance of Fabinho, who has been one of the most notorious underperformers in our season of struggles so far.

    He just seemed more mobile, more aware and, most importantly, more alive in this game. Maybe him having a little break was all he needed.

    In a similar vein, I agree with Liam that Van Dijk returned to looking more like himself.

    Bajcetic looks like a very impressive and assured player in the midfield and his goal was taken with the confidence of an established No.9, never mind a teenage defensive midfielder.

    Alisson is always a positive, and while he wasn’t overly tested, everything he did was to perfection and he couldn’t do anything for their goal.

    HENRY: I agree with the lads about Bajcetic’s goal being a standout moment – this wasn’t some meaningless goal when Liverpool were 5-0 up and he took it brilliantly.

    While Alisson, Van Dijk and Fabinho have all been singled out – they were all good – I thought Robbo was the absolute pick of the punch.

    He was superb at both ends, and while Trent had a few little iffy moments, it was impossible to fault anything the Scot did.

    Overall, Liverpool’s performance was more energetic and cohesive than we have often seen on the road this season, suggesting the World Cup break has done them good.

    The bad…

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Darwin Núñez during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    LIAM: It may have been a very satisfying win but anyone watching the game will know full well that from half-time until Bajcetic’s goal, Liverpool were a disorganised mess who coughed up a succession of chances and looked likely to cave to the pressure from Villa.

    If their finishing was better, we’d probably be reflecting on a defeat in this piece rather than a pleasing victory.

    We got away with it here; we won’t on too many occasions if we persist with failing to execute any semblance of control on proceedings.

    Also, while I praised him earlier, it is still worrying that Nunez is fluffing so many gilt-edged scoring chances.

    You won’t thank me for saying it, but it’s impossible not to think that if the opportunities he got had fallen to Erling Haaland, the Norwegian would have filled his boots.

    Hopefully, Darwin’s luck will change soon.

    GUY: I’ll start with the strangest player in the Liverpool squad, Nunez.

    I almost put him in the “good” section because he had such an eventful game with his fantastic movement and relentless attitude towards the game, but the lad needs to become a much more consistent finisher.

    He also has issues with being caught offside, but that’s quite understandable with him running in behind 24/7, but with his electric pace maybe he can hold his run more carefully.

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (C) celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (C) celebrates after scoring the second goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    I disagree with Liam and actually thought Matip had a bit of a mixed game, defending well at times but looking panicked when being pressed.

    I thought Thiago had a bit of an odd game, too – in the first half he didn’t seem to be overly involved, whereas I thought Henderson and especially Fabinho stood out in that part of the pitch.

    In the second, he seemed to fall off physically, failing to press for Villa’s goal for instance, and he was rightly subbed.

    It allowed Naby to come on for a positive impact, barring his meme-like shooting at times. 

    HENRY: I didn’t really have any issues with the individuals on show, even though I agree with Guy that Thiago was a bit of a mad watch at times.

    My main issue was that Liverpool were again far too easy to create chances against, as has been the case all season long.

    There was a time when the Reds would go 2-0 up and kill the game dead – now, they never feel safe and it is something that has top change.

    Liam is right in saying that on another day this could have ended up going badly wrong.

    And where does Salah rank…

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    LIAM: Trying to power-rank a modern-day Liverpool player, especially one still at the club, among a pantheon of Anfield legends can feel like a thankless task, given what so many of the club’s greats have achieved.

    Place them too high and one faces accusations of recency bias, ignore them completely and it seems as if one has not watched Liverpool in the Klopp era.

    That Salah is now level with Dalglish is a testament that the Egyptian King belongs in the same breath as the greatest forwards in the Reds’ history, though.

    Those who dismissed his 44-goal campaign of 2017/18 as a freakish one-off must be feeling pretty silly now – Salah has been consistently clinical and brilliant for five-and-a-half seasons at Liverpool.

    He belongs in the esteemed attacking company of Dalglish, Rush, Fowler, Barnes, St John and Hunt – we won’t truly appreciate just how special he is until the dreaded day when he is no longer a Liverpool player.

    GUY: For the context of where I think Mo sits in terms of Liverpool greats, it’s probably best to say I’ve been supporting the Reds since about 2002.

    Salah is the first world-class signing that stayed in my lifetime and that only adds to his legacy, but in terms of my lifetime supporting Liverpool, I would probably have Mo second behind Gerrard, who may actually be impossible to displace due to his influence whilst I was falling in love with football and the team.

    Mo has just been the personification of consistent, however, and he may not have kept scoring 32 league goals a season like he did in his first year, but he has become a more well-rounded player.

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - Monday, December 26, 2022: Liverpool's Mohamed Salah celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FA Premier League match between Aston Villa FC and Liverpool FC at Villa Park. (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

    I would personally have him second, but I couldn’t argue if people placed the importance of a Van Dijk or Alisson above his.

    Obviously, Dalglish, Souness, Barnes etc. would probably be above Mo for now, but I can’t give my opinion on those greats.

    HENRY: I honestly think Salah is now among Liverpool’s five greatest players of all time, and is pushing to get higher all the time.

    For me, Gerrard is definitely No.1 – he is my all-time hero – but I never saw Kenny play and Barnes was ageing when I first watched football.

    What Salah is achieving is beyond belief, and as Liam rightly says, I don’t think he will fully appreciate his genius until he is gone.

    The relentless consistency at which he scores is almost unrivalled, but he is so much more than just a goalscorer, possessing great vision, pace, strength and an elite mindset.

    I would probably say that Salah is now fifth in the all-time stakes behind Gerrard, Kenny, Barnes and Rush, but I think he will be in the top-three by the time he moves on.

    He is a phenomenon.

    Source

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