VAR, Firmino's armpit and stubborn Aston Villa can't stop Klopp's mentality monsters
Paul Gorst watches Liverpool leave it late to come from behind and beat Aston Villa
By Paul Gorst Liverpool FC correspondent
18:23, 2 NOV 2019
Liverpool have simply mastered the art of great drama. This resourceful team Jurgen Klopp has constructed these past four years just does not know when it is beaten. Yet again, victory was snatched away from the jaws of defeat as they responded to another extreme examination of their Premier League title credentials.
It is now 28 games unbeaten for Klopp's side, domestically, and they have lost only one of their last 49 Premier League matches dating back to the start of last season. The run will go on after another white knuckle ride that took the travelling supporters through every range of emotion.
The Reds thought they had frittered away points here at Villa Park thanks to Roberto Firmino's errant armpit. The Brazil striker's 'goal' in the first half, in every season of professional football prior to this one, would have stood. However, the intricacies of VAR - laws that are threatening to leave an ugly mark on the game supporters so love - ruled that Firmino was in fact, offside.
The Premier League's hurriedly cobbled together statement, released during the game, was laughable but Liverpool fans would have been forgiven for not seeing the funny side.
"The red line signifies Firmino and was aligned to his armpit, which was marginally ahead of the last Villa defender," said the governing body with the straightest of faces.Thankfully, that controversy was rendered meaningless as once more Liverpool dug into the seemingly endless reserves of character.
It isn't the first time we've said that this season. You can bet your life it won't be the last, either.
As anticipated, Jurgen Klopp rung the changes for the first visit to Villa Park since 2016 as 10 players came back in with just Adam Lallana keeping his place from Wednesday's chaotic classic in the Carabao Cup against Arsenal.
It was perhaps a sensible call from Klopp to rest Fabinho, who was walking a yellow tightrope ahead of next Sunday's visit from Manchester City. Lallana stayed at the base of Liverpool's midfield in place of the Brazilian.
Liverpool took a few minutes to settle at Villa Park but created a couple of chances in quick succession when Sadio Mane headed over from Henderson's cross before Mohamed Salah forced Tom Heaton into a decent save after a flighted ball over the top from Virgil van Dijk.
It was Villa who broke the deadlock, however, when John McGinn's free-kick was turned home by Trezeguet at the back post. He squeezed it through Alisson's legs and after a lengthy VAR check, the goal stood.
Liverpool thought they had levelled when Mane's cross was converted by Firmino. Again, VAR was consulted and it looked for all and sundry that the Brazilian was clearly onside. However, the official inside Stockley Park, Martin Atkinson - the referee who was the scourge of the Reds supporters at Old Trafford last month - once again ruled on the wrong side of Liverpool's hopes.
How Liverpool fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that Atkinson is nowhere near a contest involving their side between now and May. Once more, his call was met with an incredulous response from Reds followers. Who can blame them?
The goal was inexplicably chalked off and the Reds were made to find another way back into the contest. Surprisingly, after coming to their rescue, the Villa support - almost to a man - sang heartily about their dislike of the video technology. Liverpool fans might have felt obliged to join in after yet another baffling decision from Atkinson.
Liverpool pressed and probed in the second period and forced Heaton into a couple of saves through Gini Wijnaldum and Mane, but neither really troubled the England international goalkeeper.
Salah was next to try his luck after great work from Lallana but his curled effort flew well over the bar as the Reds became increasingly desperate to grab the equaliser. The Reds' best chance yet arrived shortly before the hour mark as Alexander-Arnold's cross was met by Mane. His header was stopped by Heaton's shoulder.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Divock Origi were summoned for as the Reds aimed to find a precious leveller. The former almost added to his goal-scoring run instantly as he fired twice at goal but both goal-bound efforts were blocked with Villa camped in their own area.
Lallana was next to go as he side-footed Firmino's clever pass wide of the goal with the target at his mercy. The leveller arrived in 87 minutes when Mane's cross to the back post was met by Andy Robertson, of all players. The Scot nodded past Heaton to restore parity, but the visitors sensed a late winner. They usually do, these days.
The stage was set for Trent Alexander-Arnold on his 100th senior appearance to steal the show but his well-struck free-kick took a deflection over the bar before the resulting corner was dramatically turned home by Mane's darting header.
The smell of pyrotechnics filled the air as the away supporters celebrated wildly. After Manchester City's own narrow 2-1 win over Southampton, this was the ideal way to end the game and maintain that six-point buffer ahead of next Sunday's showdown at Anfield.
What a game that promises to be at Anfield next week. The two best teams in Europe going head to head in one of world football's true cathedrals. That, however, can wait, for now.
This Liverpool seemingly refuse to take easy route to victory, but would you have it any other way just now?
© 2019 a Reach plc subsidiary