Sadio Mane and Thiago Alcantara stood out but Jordan Henderson was sub-par as Liverpool beat Aston Villa to reach the FA Cup fourth round.
Jurgen Klopp named a strong starting lineup and his players made the best possible start to the game, as Sadio Mane headed home from Curtis Jones’ cross to hand Liverpool the lead in the 4th minute. The visitors had a few more chances to add to their lead thereafter but went into half-time with the game back on level terms as Louie Barry finished off a fine counter-attacking move.
Coming out of the break, Liverpool did not let their stranglehold on the game loosen and the chances started flowing again. It took a five-minute blitzkrieg for them to round off the win, as Georginio Wijnaldum first scored from the edge of the box at the hour mark to hand the Reds the lead again before Mane and Mohamed Salah scored from close range.
The result meant that Liverpool progressed to the fourth round of the FA Cup at the expense of an impressive Aston Villa side, who were playing their under-23s after an outbreak within the first-team squad. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Klopp’s charges following their win on Friday.
Caoimhin Kelleher: 6/10
Deputising for Alisson, Kelleher was not tested one bit by the makeshift Aston Villa side. The young goalkeeper was only called into action once, but he had little chance to stop Louie Barry after being left exposed by those in front of him. Kept things tidy in possession, misplacing just two passes.
Neco Williams: 6/10
A decent display by Williams, who created a couple of chances with his deliveries from the right-wing, although several of his crosses failed to have the right weight on them. The youngster also gave the ball away cheaply at times but was solid in his defensive duties on the few occasions he was tested.
Rhys Williams: 5/10
Handed a rare start at the heart of the Liverpool defence, this was Rhys Williams’ chance to impress and show Klopp why the Reds should not sign a centre-back. However, a lapse in concentration meant that he allowed Barry to slip past him to score the only Aston Villa goal. Hardly tested otherwise.
Like Rhys Williams, Fabinho was not put to the sword by the Aston Villa attack, with Liverpool thoroughly dominating possession. As a result, the Brazilian was also given the license to roam higher up the pitch at times, an outlook that nearly yielded a goal. One or two cheap giveaways, though, peg back his rating slightly. Solid otherwise.
James Milner: 7/10
5 – Five of Aston Villa's starting XI (Sylla, Hayden, Barry, Bogarde, Chrisene) weren't even born when James Milner made his debut in the FA Cup in January 2003 for Leeds United vs Scunthorpe. Opportunities. pic.twitter.com/7SAw1vH084
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 8, 2021
Starting as the left-back, Milner’s inclusion allowed Andrew Robertson a much-needed breather. The veteran Englishman saw a lot of the ball, boasting of a game-high 143 touches, played in as many as 4 key passes while being solid in his defensive duties. Ageless wonder.
Curtis Jones: 6/10
Back into the starting lineup, Jones needed to provide the injection of energy that Liverpool needed in the first half. However, after a bright start to the game that included the assist for Sadio Mane’s first, the youngster faded dramatically. Should have done better in the lead-up to Barry’s strike as well.
Jordan Henderson: 4/10
Another game to forget for Henderson, who has been well off his best in recent weeks. This time around, the Liverpool captain was culpable of being turned when Aston Villa initiated the move for their goal. Wasteful in possession, he over-hit his long balls, although he did create a couple of half-chances. Needs to do better.
Georginio Wijnaldum: 6.5/10
A game of hits and misses for Wijnaldum. Hardly burdened by defensive workload, the Dutchman was a constant outlet in and around the Aston Villa box and should have scored in the first half, only to make a meal of a fine opening. Did get his goal when he handed Liverpool the lead for the second time with a precise finish.
Mohamed Salah: 7/10
— Emirates FA Cup (@EmiratesFACup) January 8, 2021
This was very nearly another extremely frustrating outing for Salah, who was denied by a top save by Akos Onodi in the first half. The Egyptian winger did get his goal when he scored Liverpool’s fourth with a composed close-range finish through the crowd. Boasted a fantastic passing rate of 92 percent and created a game-high 4 chances.
Takumi Minamino: 5/10
Trusted to reprise the false nine role, this was a disappointing performance by Minamino. While he did grab the assist for Wijnaldum’s goal, the Japanese forward was quiet for the most part and anonymous at times as well. Hardly got into scoring positions in a game wherein Liverpool saw so much of the ball.
Sadio Mane: 8/10
The game-changer for Liverpool, heading in a couple of fine finishes to earn his side a place in the FA Cup fourth round. Even otherwise, the Senegalese forward was a bright spark higher up the pitch, even if the end product was not quite there at times. Did enough to get the Reds over the line.
7 – Since the start of the 2014/15 season, Sadio Mané has scored seven goals in all competitions against Aston Villa, only netting more against Crystal Palace (10) in this time. Inevitable. pic.twitter.com/TUTtjqnmWN
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 8, 2021
Thiago Alcantara: 8/10
On for Henderson at half-time, Thiago was a major upgrade in the middle of the park and helped Liverpool engineer better openings. Pulled the strings effortlessly and most importantly, increased the tempo of the game as Liverpool pushed to get clear of Aston Villa.
Xherdan Shaqiri: 7/10
Introduced at the hour mark, Shaqiri made an instant impact by grabbing the assist for Mane’s second and Salah’s game-killing goal. A solid, purposeful display.
Roberto Firmino: 6/10
On for Minamino, Firmino provided an injection of energy higher up the pitch and helped see the game out late on.
Divock Origi: 5/10
Introduced in place of Salah, Origi could not really get into the game as Liverpool went into cruise control mode late on.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6/10
On for Mane, Oxlade-Chamberlain helped see the game out.