Andy Robertson may have clinched the points in a typical scruffy Liverpool performance but the Scotland full-back was particularly thrilled by his first Liverpool victory after he was promoted from the under-21s.
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The set piece Robertson set up for Roberto Firmino’s late goal was typical of a scrappy and ill-tempered home win in which the visitors were provoked with a second yellow card for their England forward, Tammy Abraham.
“This is what you play for,” the 25-year-old said. “We played football and won the game. This is more like my football. These games are important for our preparation for the next few weeks because it’s tight at the top of the league.”
An untidy back-and-forth first half in which both sides threatened from set pieces indicated the claustrophobic nature of the game, with Tom Cleverley proving more effective than Abraham in the first half and Mohamed Salah being isolated after the break by the Villa defence.
As the game progressed it became increasingly difficult to tell one half of the field from the other. The physicality of the game created numerous chances but was not always aesthetically pleasing, with those on the surface wearing an expectant air.
“It’s difficult to get the balance right,” Klopp said. “These games are hard, especially if you don’t have your passes in the right spots and you only have your own player to fight for the ball. We had to defend a lot and that’s really tough. After 11 minutes I said to the players to just close your eyes and remember that this is football, it’s what we do, and what we did was enough. I am really happy, especially with the goal that won the game.”
Although neither side did enough to create a goalscoring opportunity, Saints’ poorly timed attack lacked urgency and allowed Abraham to find the opening Liverpool winger, Sadio Mané, who served the ball well to Firmino.
Robertson impressed at the centre of Liverpool’s defence, and his brand of defending going forward was based on stripping a move and challenging on the edge of the penalty area. It is difficult to imagine an opponent who would be able to break down the right-back so quickly.
Abraham’s curling shot was gloved away, forcing him to make the awkward decision to shoot from out on the pitch. However, the Villa No9’s effort went straight into Klopp’s arms. There were more groans as a Liverpool forward looked likely to open the scoring after three minutes but the Naby Keïta effort from a tight angle went too high.
The hosts should have taken the lead at the start of the second half after a swift counter-attack, led by Salah, but José Fonte’s goal line clearance denied a goal for the Mali international.
Klopp spent the majority of the half-time interval offering tactical advice on what to do at set pieces, but the second-half goal came from a set piece as Gerrard’s free-kick from the right was nodded in by Salah to settle the game.