'G' FORCE | 

Gerrard looked nervous on Anfield return but Kop idol will have been pleased with Villa's fighting spirit

Villa had a go at Liverpool and their new boss will have been pleased to see the level of passion
Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard shakes hands with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

Aston Villa manager Steven Gerrard shakes hands with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp

John Aldridge

STEVEN Gerrard’s return to Anfield was always a sideshow to what really mattered at Anfield yesterday - and Liverpool just about managed to get over the line.

I have a pretty good idea how Liverpool legend Stevie felt as he stood in the opposition dug-out as Aston Villa manager because I led Tranmere into a game against my former club many years ago.

It is a strange sensation, but all you can do is be professional, try and do what is best for your team and I’m sure Stevie and his assistant Gary McAllister, another former Red, had that mindset.

Stevie will forever be a Liverpool great and he might be the best player who has ever played for the club.

I know that’s controversial as Kenny Dalglish holds such a special place in the hearts of Liverpool fans, but Stevie carried Liverpool teams time and again during his stint at the club and that singles him out as a special player for me.

Kenny added the icing on the cake to a sensational Liverpool team during his time at the club, but Gerrard lifted some very average teams to great heights, with his performance in the 2005 Champions League final cementing his iconic status.

Stevie got a great reception on his return to Anfield yesterday and rightly so, with everyone who gave him a cheer wishing him all the best... once this game is out of the way.

From my position high in the stands, Stevie looked nervous as he stood on the touchline at Anfield as the opposition manager for the first time.

He was jumping up and down and touching his toes as if he was getting ready to play and it must have been strange for him.

Yet Klopp and his Liverpool players couldn’t worry about Gerrard, as they had a massive job to do.

If I was in that Liverpool dressing room, I would have said nothing about Gerrard and instead, my focus would have been on getting some revenge on a Villa side that inflicted that bizarre 7-2 on Liverpool last season.

Klopp’s men have had a couple of decent wins against Villa after that, but I’m sure Klopp mentioned that hammering against Villa in his pre-match talk.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores from the penalty spot against Aston Villa

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores from the penalty spot against Aston Villa

The problem for Liverpool in the first half was Villa were playing with 12 men, as referee Stuart Attwell may as well have been named on Gerrard’s team-sheet.

Liverpool played with good intensity, but every little decision went in Villa’s favour as Atwell gave every 50/50 decision to the opposition.

Klopp was pulling his hair out on the touchline as he no doubt felt that he had a referee working against him.

With Manchester City winning the lunchtime game, the pressure was on Liverpool to respond with a win against Villa and it was always going to be a tough game.

Stevie has got them going since he took over from Dean Smith and he would not have had to do too much homework on Liverpool, as he knows everything about Klopp and his team.

Villa did well to keep Mo Salah quiet, they committed fouls when they needed to break up the game and they got to half-time without conceding a goal.

Liverpool were depleted in attack as Diogo Jota wasn’t fit enough to start.

That was a blow as he is good at sniffing out chances in the box and playing that penalty box poacher role.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain started in his place and he is not a natural centre-forward, so that finishing touch was lacking when the half-chances arrived.

When Villa keeper Emiliano Martinez pulled off a flying save from Virgil van Dijk’s header eight minutes into the second half, you wondered whether it was going to be one of those days, when two points slipped away for Liverpool.

But this team should never be questioned.

As Salah started to influence the game in the second half, Villa finally allowed their guard to drop when Tyrone Mings tangled with the Egyptian in the box and referee Atwell had to finally give Liverpool a decision, with Salah putting his penalty away impressively.

To their credit, Villa had a go at Liverpool after that and Gerrard will have been pleased to see the level of passion and effort served up by his players.

They were prepared to run through walls for him and that’s a sign of a manager who has players on his side, so there are good signs for Stevie there.

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk rises above the Aston Villa defence to head goalwards

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk rises above the Aston Villa defence to head goalwards

The Villa players working under Gerrard are not as good as their manager, but they are only going one way under his watch and that is forward.

In the end, Villa didn’t get the break they needed and this was a massive three points for Liverpool on a day when Manchester City and Chelsea both won.

There is no doubt that Liverpool deserved the three points, but these are the games where points can slip away.

And this was precisely the type of match that was going against them at the start of 2021.

With the fans back at Anfield, the Liverpool players are getting that little lift that was absent in the opening months of this year and already, it feels like there is no room for error.

The new ‘big three’ struggled in the Premier League yesterday and it needed three penalties to get Man City, Chelsea and Liverpool over the line.

Yet this is a title race where dropped points could be fatal, so Liverpool need to keep pace with the big spenders if they want to have a chance to challenge for the title in the final six weeks of the season.

You can’t keep on scoring four and five goals in every game, unless you can play Manchester United away every week!

So this was a day to get the job done and just for once, Steven Gerrard was not toasting a Liverpool win last night.

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