BIRMINGHAM, England — When Trent Alexander-Arnold readied to take a corner as the clock ticked down at Villa Park, with seconds left in his 100th appearance for Liverpool, there was apprehension among the home supporters and expectation in the away end.
It was the 95th minute, seven after Andy Robertson cancelled out Trezeguet’s first-half opener for Aston Villa and there were just 60 seconds remaining for the league leaders to rescue three points. Liverpool were several levels below their best, without rhythm or surety in their play, all afternoon and the fixture was ready to be filed under “just one of those days.”
“We made it difficult for ourselves,” Jurgen Klopp admitted post-match. “We started playing football good but not exactly like we should have done. Aston Villa were ready today for a proper fight, a proper battle, defend with all they have, try to find spaces for counter-attacks and be there and have good set pieces.
“We played good football, but didn’t finish the situations and then we conceded a goal, then it is not so easy to change these wrong decisions, this wrong path, immediately. We needed a bit of time.”
Liverpool’s poor decision-making aligned with marginal calls — Villa’s goal was ruled just onside by VAR, but Roberto Firmino’s armpit (yes, you read that correctly) was deemed to be offside when he had the ball in the back of the net — compounded the sense that it may not quite be their afternoon. But in those dying moments, the emotions of both fan bases were understandable. Dean Smith’s men have ceded 11 points in games in which they have gone ahead this season, more than any other Premier League side. Liverpool, by contrast, are the champions of division in winning points from losing positions.
It turns out that Villa supporters were justified for feeling the way they did: Sadio Mane’s deft header from Alexander-Arnold’s corner dissected Conor Hourihane and Jonathan Kodjia before nestling into the far corner to make it 2-1 to the league leaders.
Prior to that moment, Liverpool did not need to dig that deep or look too far to believe they could conjure another rescue act. They were decisive at the death during a ridiculous 5-5 draw with Arsenal in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night, in which they triumphed on penalties. Their winner against Leicester City at Anfield last month arrived after 95 minutes. Their equaliser against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the next fixture materialised in the 85th minute. The “Fergie Time” concept, coined when Sir Alex Ferguson’s sides had a habit of producing late goals, has been replaced by “Klopp o’clock.”
Since the start of last season, no other Premier League team has scored more goals in the division during the last 10 minutes than Liverpool’s 23. In September 2017, after his side had conceded 13 goals from seven matches, Klopp admitted that lapses in defence had become “a self-fulfilling prophecy” for them as players got sucked into the narrative around them. That has since been positively replaced by Liverpool’s powers of recovery: since the German labelled his squad “f—ing mentality monsters” in April after Mohamed Salah and Jordan Henderson scored late goals in a 3-1 victory at Southampton, they have continually found ways to win even with time running out.
Liverpool have lost just one of their last 50 top-flight fixtures, which came against Manchester City in January 2019. On Sunday, the title rivals collide again at Anfield in what will be an almighty battle. The hosts have a six-point advantage over Pep Guardiola’s defending champions, who also had to produce a late come-from-behind victory at Southampton, and the determination of both sides this Saturday, neither willing to relinquish the opportunity to keep the pressure on the other ahead of next weekend, paves the way for yet another all-consuming encounter.
Given the evidence, it would be wise to watch that game until the final whistle.